How a Super Dog Saved my Life

How a Super Dog Saved my Life

R-E-L-A-X. Take a deep breath. My beloved Boston Terrier isn’t dead just yet.

I’ve seen a lot of people writing on social media recently about the loss of their dogs. Their words and pictures are always poignant and soul stirring. But because their furry four-legged friends were already six feet under, the posts were also hauntingly sad. It got me to thinking—just like with our human loved ones, shouldn’t we be paying homage to our beloved pets while they’re still fully alive and kicking?

Ten years ago, I would have scrolled right past all those emotional social media musings without a second thought. You see, back then I wasn’t just indifferent to dogs, but I’d just as soon kick ‘em in the head. I was bitten by a dog as a kid, so I was naturally kind of scared of them. Plus, dogs were a genuine nuisance in my mind. They barked, they needed to be fed and groomed, they chewed on shoes and furniture, and they stank. I still remember going over to a friend’s house after school, and it always smelled like…wet dog.

Man, how times have changed. I’ve since learned that having a dog alters your entire perspective on life. Nowadays, I read every single one of those pet-centered tributes with moistened eyes and a sorrowful heart. Believe me, it took me half a century, but I finally fully get it now. They’re called “man’s best friend” for a reason, and I want to tell the world about my best friend, Bingo, while he’s still around to enjoy the accolades.

Bingo’s nine now. That’s the same age as me in dog years. We’re both slowing down, and I’m not sure how much more precious time we have left together. However long that time is, I’m planning on savoring it to the max. After all we’ve been through, I simply can’t imagine life without him.

The truth is, Bingo saved my life. No, he didn’t drag me out of a burning house ala Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. But my little Boston Terrier came along—a godsend from heaven—at just the time I needed him the most. As my wife was battling her demons, I got Bingo as an act of desperation—a last-ditch effort to ease the burden for Kanisa during her journey of spiraling depression.

Unfortunately, the ploy didn’t work. Man plans, God laughs. Kanisa ended up paying Bingo absolutely no heed. I was the one left filling his water bowl and scooping his poop.

During the first two years of his life, I was still working full time, so Bingo remained cooped up in his pen for ten to twelve hours at a time. I did my best to keep him active, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re always slumped over the dental chair. My heart literally aches when I think of those dark nights of the soul when that poor little puppy just laid around in solitude.

Saturdays and Sundays did, however, provide a temporary refuge of escape. I started taking Bingo on weekend trips. Glorious, fun-loving, carefree joyrides out to the countryside where we could both decompress and chill from the rigors of the work week and Kanisa’s psychotic rants.

Gradually, as I transitioned closer into retirement, those weekend activities became the norm. My worries of having this “mutt I had to take care of” gradually morphed into the merriment of a “little buddy I enjoyed having around.”

Those of you still reading know exactly what I’m talking about. As human beings, we’re wired for companionship. As that companionship with my wife teetered on the brink, many well-meaning friends told me to simply abandon ship. “No need to destroy two lives,” they said.  I didn’t need to hear that. Nor did I need any tempting distractions luring me into activities I would later regret.

No, all I needed at the time was a playful little slobber-mouthed, bug-eyed, tail-wagging, loud-snoring, foul-farting fur ball to keep me company. Bingo ended up going everywhere I went—on long runs, covering sporting events, jaunts to the beach, and cross-country airplane rides out to California. https://huangswhinings.com/2016/05/04/holding-my-breath/ I found myself immersed in the world of pet-friendly hotels, dog parks, and restaurant patio decks. Although life wasn’t necessarily grand, it suddenly became imminently survivable.

And now, here we are—both Bingo and I on the sunset side of our fleeting time on earth. With the average life span of a Boston being ten to fourteen and that of an average American male being seventy-six, our most productive years are undoubtedly behind us. Those sobering statistics don’t lie. If I heed my own advice, I better cherish every single second of our remaining moments together.

Here’s the best thing of all about Bingo. Kanisa loves him more than I do. It took a little while, but he eventually worked his magic on her also. For the past couple of years, the two have been inseparable. He’s been the best therapy money can buy.

So, I want the world to know that BINGO IS A GOOD BOY. As I’m writing this, my miracle mutt is at my feet snoring away. When he wakes up, I’m going to give him a huge hug. Then I’ll leash him to my waist (and heart), and we’ll go running off into the sunset together. https://huangswhinings.com/2016/05/06/i-love-la/

My Country ‘Tis of Thee

My Country ‘Tis of Thee

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

I happened to be down in Hoover, Alabama, for the SEC Baseball Tournament when I heard the horrific news. Another crazed gunman had opened fire at an elementary school, killing nineteen defenseless kids before law enforcement officials ended his rampage.

The contrast couldn’t have been more unsettling. Here I was in my happy place, watching a sporting event I loved, surrounded by thousands of other fans and their families, gleefully enjoying the liberties and freedoms of residing in arguably the greatest nation on the face of the earth.

Meanwhile, less than a thousand miles away in Uvalde, Texas, the parents of murdered ten-year-olds were undergoing unimaginable horror—being asked to submit DNA samples because their children’s bullet-mangled faces were disfigured beyond recognition.

Reports of the soul-shattering sobs of anguished moms and dads being informed of the slaughter gave me pause. CNN interviewing a heartbroken father crying over the loss of his beloved daughter stopped me dead in my tracks.

Like many of you, I was sickened by the news—repulsed, revolted, and on the verge of outrage. Baseball suddenly took a back seat to the real-life drama going on around me. For most of us, sports are just a pleasant distraction anyway. The end of a season pales in comparison to the end of a life—especially twenty-one lives cut way too short.

Unfortunately, reports of these tragedies have become far too common. Sandy Hook, Columbine, Marjory Stoneman Douglas—they roll off our tongue like a John Calipari word salad. Virginia Tech, Umpqua Community College, Cal State Fullerton—the list goes on and on.

To make matters worse, you can’t confine the carnage to just schools and colleges. As we’ve all been reminded of recently, we’re all open targets while shopping in supermarkets, worshipping in churches, and strolling through malls…or perhaps even cheering our teams on at the ballpark.

What’s more, every time we’re faced with a tragedy, we offer up a moment of silence, gather together in prayer, and resolve to make lasting changes. And yet, changes never come.

As a wide-eyed, impressionable four-year-old, I immigrated with my parents to America in 1963. No sooner had we arrived on the shores of freedom, the President of the United States gets his head blown off with a high-powered rifle.

Not long after that, Charles Whitman takes human target practice from the observation tower on the University of Texas campus, killing 14 and wounding 31. Less than two years later, Martin Luther King Jr. goes down to an assassin’s bullet, followed likewise by Robert F. Kennedy. You think those events didn’t impact my prepubescent brain? Of course they did. My thoughts haven’t changed much since then.

I’m Chinese, and Chinese people don’t usually own guns (btw, there aren’t many mass shootings in China). I’ve never owned a gun. The only time I’ve fired an assault rifle was on the range during my time in the Army, so I don’t really understand the American love affair with high-caliber firearms. But I do have good friends who’ll go to the grave protecting the second amendment. After all, America stands proudly as the land of the free and home of the brave. I get it.

But there comes a point when you have to say enough is enough. A country that can’t protect its most vulnerable citizens is not a country worth defending with your life. Whether gun issue, mental health issue, or hot-potato political issue, it’s high time for the highfalutin bigwigs in our nation’s capital to band together and collectively do what’s right and needed for humanity’s sake.

Comprehensive background checks for gun owners and gun violence restraining orders are an obvious first step. That to me is a no-brainer. The best way to stop these mass shootings is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Go a step further and reinstitute the universal ban on assault weapons and crack down on high-capacity magazines. Make it mandatory and easy for students to report perceived threats amongst themselves. Power-hungry politicians need to quit pandering to the cash cow that is the NRA.

If those actions restrict our freedoms, so be it. We made the same concessions when the towers went down. It’s the price we pay for living in a civilized nation. Despite our growing divisiveness, I still think the United States of America remains the greatest nation on earth.

I’ve got a six-year-old nephew who I love sharing time with. I can’t imagine dropping him off at school for the very last time ever. Or taking him to a ballpark for a bullet through his brain. And yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been despondent about over the past forty-eight hours. It’s exactly what our country should have been obsessing over for the past forty-eight years.

We can do better. We NEED to do better!

My country, ‘tis of thee

Sweet land of liberty

For this I…GRIEVE!

Land where my neighbors died

Land of political pride

From every mountainside

Let bullets reign.

But the greatest of these is FOOD

But the greatest of these is FOOD

And now these three remain: sex, sleep, and food. But the greatest of these is FOOD!

I’ve always loved food. Not only does eating food satisfy one of man’s basic biological needs, it can also give rise to one of his greatest earthly pleasures. That’s certainly true for me. Whether traveling the world sampling international cuisine or vegetating on my couch watching NetFlix, gluttony sadly sits atop my seven deadly sins list.

When it comes to food, I don’t discriminate. I’m as comfortable chowing down at any hole-in-the-wall burger joint as I am at a three-star Michelin fine dining restaurant. Fast food, comfort food, ethnic food, or junk food, it doesn’t matter a lick to me. I can handle vegan, vegetarian, sweet, or savory. If the food is good, bring it on. I’m like a Chinese Andrew Zimmern swooping in on his next delicious destination.

That’s why I’m heading down to the Asian Food Fest in downtown Cincinnati this weekend. This vibrant community festival celebrates culture and cuisine from the entire Pacific Rim and beyond. For me, it’s like a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I grew up eating all sorts of Chinese delicacies, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of my fondest gastronomical delights.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t drive up here solely to attend the food festival. I’m here on assignment covering the Cincinnati Reds. It’s the doubleheader from hell as the Reds are taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a drawn-out twin bill. Twelve consecutive hours in purgatory is a bit too much for anyone to sit through, so I’m taking a break between games to gorge myself silly.

As I approach the plaza on foot, I get my first whiff of paradise—the scintillating smells of simmering spices serenades my nostrils. This is what heaven must be like. But instead of streets paved with gold, the streets are lined with food vendors serving the tasting menu of my dreams. There’s no fake chop suey like you find at your local Kroger deli. Nope—you’re talking Malaysian Chicken Rendang, Kalua Pork Nachos, Vietnamese Empanadas, and the most delectable tofu Pad Thai this side of Bangkok. Where do I even begin?

There’s a definite strategy involved in approaching these food festivals. You can’t waste calories by making bonehead choices. The days of eating as much as I want without expanding my waistline are long gone. There’s no more tapeworm or hollow leg to fall back on. In other words, I’ve got to pace myself, be selective, and loosen my belt accordingly.

My strategy, then, is to start slow and to look for the longest lines. I queue up behind several Asian couples at this one place claiming to serve authentic Chinese fare. One bite into the barbecue pork steam bun stuffed with quail egg and Chinese sausage tells me I made the right choice. The sweet fluffy dough evokes a flood of memories from my youth. I can’t help but think of my dear Mama, rising up early to painstakingly hand knead the flour, roll out the dough, and lovingly craft those magically delicious baos.

A revelation suddenly occurs to me. Not only does everything taste good, but each item I choose has an indelible memory attached to it. The spicy coconut-based broth of the Curry Laksa reminds me of the first of many meals my beloved bride cooked for me. The authentic Nepalese Momo Dumplings spur recollections of food binges with my brother. When I marvel at the delicate scallion pancake holding together my Chinese Pork Taco, I’m reminded of the importance of solid life-long relationships. Never mind the Caucasian dude beside me choking on the spices, I’m in my happy place.

The food we eat is more than just sustenance. It’s our life as well as our lifeblood. It’s all the sights and smells and textures and tastes joining together to form a symphony of life experiences. You vividly remember exactly where you were when you bit into that first soup dumpling or tasted the crispiness of Peking Duck for the very first time.

Food speaks to you—just like a soothing musical ballad—in ways that words cannot. It takes you back to all those special times, to all those memorable places, and reconnects you with every person you’ve ever broken bread with over the course of your precious lifetimes.

Try saying that about sex, or sleep, or shelter, or any of our other basic human needs for that matter. You can’t. That’s why the greatest of these is food.

I’ll have the Mung Bean Noodles to go, please.

Books and Pizza

Books and Pizza

Two of my favorite life activities are writing books and eating pizza. Whenever I combine the two passions, it makes for one glorious day. Occasionally, my joy overflows and I feel compelled to share. Sunday was one of those times.

It’s Palm Sunday, and I’m headed out riding—not on my ass—but in my trusty white convertible. The temperature’s not quite warm enough to cruise with the top down, but the sun is shining, and the central Kentucky countryside is resplendent in all its verdant glory.

Beside me is Kyle Macy. Yeah, THE KYLE MACY, arguably the most popular Kentucky basketball player to have ever worn the uniform. Kyle and I did a book together titled From the Rafters of Rupp, and we’re headed up the backroads of horse country to Cynthiana, Kentucky, to do a book signing.

You never know how these appearances will pan out, so I’m wound tighter than a banjo string. Kyle, however, is just Kyle—cool, calm, and as collected as ever. We arrive about twenty minutes early at our pre-arranged venue. Kyle is confident we’ll sign a million books. I’m just hoping we won’t be the only ones there.

As usual, my worries are unfounded as a nice crowd materializes. Kyle dazzles them with his wonderful gift of gab. It amazes me how surprisingly candid he is when talking about UK Basketball. It’s obvious he loves the program—but as you’ll see in the book—he’s not afraid to speak his mind either. I, on the other hand, have been guzzling the blue Kool-Aid. I know the people aren’t here to listen to me anyway, so I stick to the party line whenever I’m asked a pointed question. Kyle rolls his eyes and tells me I’ve still got a lot to learn.

The Next Chapter Bookstore (thenextchapter41031.com) is a real gem. It’s relatively new, having opened in November of 2020…and having expanded to their fabulous new location in October of last year. The three owners—Jennifer Renaker, Ashley Peak, and Sherry Judy—greet us like long-lost cousins. You can feel the love they’ve poured into this business enterprise, as they bounce around energetically making everyone feel welcome. I see my other UK basketball book, Kentucky Passion, prominently displayed on the front shelf. Yep, this place is awesome. THIS PLACE IS AWESOME, INDEED! I’ll be back for sure.

After the books are signed and everyone’s happy, Kyle and I prepare for part two of our Sunday afternoon doubleheader. We’ve been invited for some homemade pizza at the house of the King. Doug Hampton is a former basketball referee and world-famous auctioneer. He’s also a New York Pizza School graduate and is well-known for his mouth-watering pies.

Before we indulge, however, we stop off on a parcel of holy ground. This is Joe B. Hall country, and no visit to Cynthiana would be complete without a visit to his mural. It’s much bigger and grander than I had imagined. Prior to his recent passing, many considered Joe the most beloved coach in America https://huangswhinings.com/2020/02/20/the-most-beloved-coach-in-america/. Kyle played for Coach Hall on that 1978 national championship team, and he assures me that Joe B. was as classy as they come.

The Dugan’s Pizza experience was downright heavenly. To be perfectly honest, it may just be the best pizza I’ve ever had. The dough was exquisite—tantalizingly chewy on the outside with a delectably airy and fluffy middle. The sauce was orgasmic, a puree of ripened tomatoes enhanced with the perfect blend of basil and garlic. And man…that cheese…the thought of that caramelized specialty brick cheese oozing together with the stringy mozzarella and sprinkled liberally atop with parmesan has me quivering as I write. Top everything off with a thick juicy slab of bacon or some flavorful pepperoni, and let’s fight to the death for that last corner square.

Predictably, Kyle and I gorge ourselves. He has four slices. I’m five-and-done. We both then cruise back towards Lexington disgustingly fat and happy. But WAIT…Kyle has a sweet tooth. He’s not done yet. We go for broke, pull up to the nearest Dairy Queen, and order our Blizzards. Just our luck—their ice cream mixer is broken.

I’m a bit ticked off, but Kyle shrugs it off. The guy is literally one cool cat. I figured with all the accolades and adoration he’s received over the years, these types of outings would get old in a hurry. I ask him if he enjoyed the day.

“Absolutely,” he answers me. “It’s always fun meeting people and talking about UK Basketball.”

I’m no Kyle Macy, but I’ll second the motion. Life is all about relationships—nurturing existing ones and formulating brand new ones. That’s easy to do with the folks in Cynthiana. They’re some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Plus, they bought all our books and fed us the best pizza south of Brooklyn. You can see why I’m feeling truly blessed. I’m living the dream.

Kyle and I will be at it again next week. Bullitt County, here we come. Crank up those Oreo Blizzards.

Books and ice cream, anyone?

Head on over to The Next Chapter Bookstore and pick up your signed copy of #FromTheRaftersOfRupp or #KentuckyPassion. Can’t make it out? Order here https://www.acclaimpress.com/books/from-the-rafters-of-rupp-the-book/

or https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

and we’ll find a way to sign it for you next time you’re in town. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Collision Course with Destiny

Collision Course with Destiny

Remember when your mama told you, “if you can’t say anything good about anyone, then just don’t say anything at all”? Well, I can’t say anything good about Mike Krzyzewski.

But rather than just ending this blog post right here, let me try and explain.

You see, I’m a Kentucky basketball fan. And no True Blue, dyed-in-the-wool Kentucky Wildcat basketball fan feels any affinity whatsoever for the head coach of the Duke University Blue Devils.

It’s not that we don’t think Krzyzewski is a good coach. In fact, many of us think he’s one of the best to have ever coached the college game. Nearly 1,200 wins, five national titles, and 47 years at the helm unequivocally qualifies as Hall of Fame worthy. It’s just that the guy was coaching Duke when Christian Laettner hit the infamous last-second shot in the 1992 East regional finals to end Kentucky’s “unforgettable” run. That memory alone is enough to rankle everybody with a Big Blue pulse—as it should. To further twist the knife, Krzyzewski then went on to also steal a couple more banners (2010, 2015) that should rightfully be hanging in the rafters of Rupp Arena.

Coach K announced at the very beginning of this basketball season his plans to retire at the end of the year, setting off a firestorm of victory parades and sugary farewells. Week after week, we’ve heard a plethora of platitudes from national pundits about the 75-year-old coaching icon. Listening to all their unctuous drivel, you’d think Krzyzewski could give Jesus a run for his money.

I don’t care that Mike Krzyzewski is a wonderful family man. So what if he’s charitable to his community. Big deal that almost all his coaching colleagues speak highly of him when asked. None of that matters one iota to me. His 30-game curtain call has rendered me nauseous.  

Frankly, my dear, I can’t take it anymore. I’m sick of Coach K, and I’m sick of Duke University. The entire campus reeks of elitism and arrogance—the gothic architecture surrounded by well-manicured lawns and populated by a rich, entitled student body. In my mind, they’re all just a bunch of Ivy League wannabees with an oversized alumni endowment to match. I’ve noticed that Duke graduates are quick to snicker at my UK pedigree, as if I purchased my degrees at the local diploma mill.

In a wonderful twist of irony last night, Duke’s most hated rival—the North Carolina Tar Heels—crushed the Blue Devils in Coach K’s last regular-season game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “Rat Face,” as he’s not so affectionately referred to by the Carolina faithful, was beside himself afterwards. Oh, there was none of the grandstanding we usually see from the potty-mouth, ref-berating, holier-than-thou Krzyzewski. Instead, His Imperial Highness assured everyone fawning shamelessly over him—including a litany of former players—that Duke’s season was not yet over.

That brings me to my point. I’m afraid that UK and Coach K are on a collision course with destiny. It’s a repeat of sorts, just like in 1975 when Kentucky played UCLA for all the marbles. If you remember, Coach John Wooden announced his retirement right before that one, and the Wildcats wound up on the wrong side of the storybook narrative.

The whole basketball world dubbed Kentucky as villains that night, and everybody—including the refs—conspired against them. As a result, Wooden rode off into the sunset with Kentucky’s championship banner tucked firmly in hand. Lord, don’t let it happen again.

I don’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, but this coronation for Krzyzewski is too obvious to ignore. With the NCAA selection committee and the television networks working in cahoots, a Kentucky versus Duke matchup is all but assured. The only remaining question is if Krzyzewski cuts down the nets. They’ve cued up One Shining Moment—the world is ready to celebrate.

It’s high time we spoiled the party.

If you enjoy my writings as a basketball fan, check out my latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . Follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta

“Senor John, Your Covid-19 test is negative.”

Whew, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when my ears heard those soul-lifting words. My daughter Katie and I just happened to be hunkered down in a makeshift testing center off the lobby of our hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. When we initially booked this sun-splashed sojourn south of the border, we had no clue that a guaranteed return to the good old USA would require such a nerve-wracking nasal swab and sweat. Horror stories about Yankees retained due to the ‘Rona had understandably piqued our pucker factor.

Remember now, I was also coming off attending Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles—a veritable international super spreader event. Combine that with travel to a country the CDC strongly advised against visiting, and you can see why I had second thoughts about going. Irresponsible? Perhaps it was. In the end, the lure of tropical eighty-five-degree weather, delectable Mexican seafood cuisine, and pristine sandy beaches proved too difficult to resist. Plus, Katie and I were both vaxxed and boosted, and—most importantly in our minds—the money we plunked down was totally non-refundable.

So, off we went—like Dumb and Dumber—for our father/daughter getaway.

Taking all that Covid angst and apprehension into account, this mid-winter respite still rated five stars in both our books. Puerto Vallarta, a beach resort city located about halfway down the west coast of Mexico, is an easy three-hour flight from Los Angeles. The city expanded to about 300,000 inhabitants in the 2020 census, but there’s an understated elegance and small-town charm you simply can’t find in other tourist meccas such as Cabo or Cancun.

There’s a boardwalk downtown—a seaside esplanade set apart from the narrow cobblestone streets, the bustling traffic, and the multitude of restaurants and shops radiating up the adjacent hillside. The cityscape has a bit of a European flair—like a poor man’s Portofino without any of the haughtiness, pretentiousness, or multi-colored buildings.

Occasionally, a whiff of cannabis penetrates the nostrils, but it’s quickly overcome with the aroma of grilled chorizo and peppers wafting from a nearby grill. Street vendors hawking sombreros and jewelry are everywhere. They politely keep their distance from me, as if somehow suspecting I’m tight with my pesos.

Closer to our hotel is the marina district—a more upscale cornucopia of shops, spas, and restaurants hungry for your tourist dollar. The walk around the waterfront harbor is spectacularly elegant, perfect for burning the extra calories from that double scoop of dessert gelato that you really should have skipped.

Remember, it’s also Valentine’s Day, so couples are everywhere, romantically strolling hand in hand along the numerous pedestrian pathways. Katie’s biggest fear is that we’ll be mistaken for one of them. She makes it known to everyone within shouting distance that I’M HER DAD—not some over-the-hill sugar daddy on a secret tryst with his floozy.

The Puerto Vallarta weather and beaches certainly didn’t disappoint either. What’s not to like about mid-eighties, perpetually sunny, with a light ocean breeze? The food was even better—seafood ceviche, squid ink paella, and the most tender steak fajitas this side of Guadalajara.

If you’re not already relaxed after my narrative thus far, I’d highly recommend a Mexican massage. This is nothing like the Thai version, where you’ve got Attila the Hun mercilessly twisting your torso. Nope, this is more the Swedish adaptation—soft, sensual, and soothing. Be sure to leave your modesty at the door. I guarantee you’ll leave with a smile on your face.

Beware of the dry-heat saunas, however. Five minutes in, I was sweating like Richard Burton in Night of the Iguana (filmed nearby). Ten minutes later, the coating on my prescription eyeglass lenses melted right before my eyes—literally. Sometimes you’ve got to live and learn. Thankfully, I brought a spare.

For the outdoor enthusiast, there are all sorts of sea excursions, four-wheeling, and ziplining adventures from which to choose. Katie and I elected to swim with the dolphins. Please don’t judge—the last thing I want to do is exploit animals. But I was a huge Flipper fan growing up, and I wanted nothing more than to pal around like Bud and Sandy.

Say what you may, the Aquaventuras Park—home of the Dolphin Discovery—has seen better days. It’s primarily a waterpark, with the usual assortment of slides, chutes, and flumes all bleached and faded by the relentless Mexican sun. Like many other tourist destinations, Covid has sucked the life out of the cash registers. There are no lines, so we hop on for a couple of quick, refreshing rides. One of the lifeguards looks like Enrique Iglesias, so Katie takes her time with an extra leisurely lap around the lazy river.

I’m here, however, to learn about dolphins. We’re paired up with Dorie—and she’s a beauty who’ll steal your heart in a second. Sleek and rubbery to the touch, Dorie’s nearly half a ton of cartilage, muscle, and pure love. There are six “Dories” here, and they all seem quite content. They dine on fish imported from Canada and they’re protected from other marine predators. In return, performing a few tricks and hobnobbing in the water with gringos like me seems like a pretty fair tradeoff.

But did you know some dolphins can live over fifty years? That’s a long time to be corralled in a small pen with no hope of escape. After forty-five minutes, I’ve had enough. I wash off all my guilt and shame with a quick shower before high tailing it out of there. How about some photos (at an outrageous $80 a pop) to document your experience? Thanks, but no thanks.

Four days in paradise passes quickly. On our final morning by the pool, I watch as a family frolics happily by the water. I can’t help but think of our prior travels together as family—Katie, Kanisa, and myself—the three of us together on some wild harebrained adventure without a care in the world. Now, sadly, it’s just Katie and me.

It’s bittersweet traveling alone with my daughter. On one hand, I treasure this time together and wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China. On the other hand, there’s an unspoken sense of blame and remorse for always leaving Mom at home—well taken care of with food and protected from predators, but still trapped in her own corral of depression, psychosis, and mental illness with no hope of escape.

I’ve grudgingly learned over this past decade, however, that life must go on. You have to take the good with the bad. Soldier on, regardless of circumstances. You never know what the future will hold. Ironically, because of the bad, I find myself really savoring the good. I believe it was King Solomon who said, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”

King Solomon was much smarter than me.

By the way, as I passed through passport control and customs on the return to the States, the border agent never asked for my Covid test results. All that dread and uneasiness amounted to nothing after all. How often does our fear of the future ruin our enjoyment of the precious present? If I’m honest with myself, it’s happened way too often in my lifetime. I promise to do better.

My final connecting flight into Lexington was late, arriving just before one o’clock am. At that bewitching hour, there are no Ubers or Lyfts available, and a taxi was going to take an hour and a half. I thought about calling my brother, but he needed the sleep, and I figured I could use the exercise. So, I walked the two miles back home. If you saw a dark figure wheeling a carry-on suitcase along Man O’ War boulevard early Friday morning humming La Bamba, that was me.

You gotta love life. You gotta love Lexington. It’s good to be home.

If you enjoy my writing, you can follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs. Also check out my latest book KENTUCKY PASSION at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

Super Bowl Dreams

Super Bowl Dreams

The Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl bound—and Lord willing, SO AM I!

As someone who has faithfully covered the team for the past five years, the National Football League has graciously granted me an official media credential for the press box at SoFi Stadium. For a football junkie like me, that means a journey to the pinnacle of the NFL, a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the mountaintop summit of the entire sporting world.

Ever since Jim O’Brien kicked the Baltimore Colts to a 16 – 13 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V, I’ve dreamed of going to this iconic event. Year after year, for over half a century, I’ve longed to experience the world-renowned glamour and pageantry with my own eyes and ears.

The undefeated Dolphins, Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, the ’85 Bears, America’s Team with Aikman and Smith, the Greatest Show on Turf, Brady and Belichick—all viewed through the lens of that distant and detached boob tube screen.

Regardless of who was playing or where I was, I’d always make it a point to somehow tune in. Whether at a large social gathering or alone in my man cave, I simply couldn’t miss. Those 1:00 am kickoffs while stationed in Germany were especially difficult. One year while traveling, I remember frantically searching for a television at a seaside bar off the coast of Thailand (early on a Monday morning) just to get my Super Bowl fix.

Each year, after the final credits rolled, I promised myself that next year would be the one that I would finally make the in-person plunge. And yet, the plunge never came. Like so many other well-intentioned plans, this one careened into the backburner of misplaced priorities and dashed hopes. As the Super Bowl itself ballooned in stature and as ticket prices subsequently soared, my dream coincidentally vaporized.

And just as suddenly—as improbable as it sounds after all these years—I’m riding triumphantly to Super Bowl LVI on the backs of the Bengals. It’s a serendipitous ride of sorts, the Super Bowl venue at SoFi Stadium beckoning to me like a fairytale fantasy of my pre-adolescent youth.

You see, the Bengals are playing the Los Angeles Rams in LA. I’ve always loved the City of Angels. When I was young, my dream was to move to Los Angeles and become a movie star. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent, the looks, or the teeth to be a Leonardo DiCaprio—so I became a dentist instead. I guess things worked out okay, but I always wondered how different my life would have been as an Asian Brad Pitt.

Having missed out on Hollywood, I did the next best thing. I became a fan of everything LA—including the Los Angeles Rams. Yep, those Rams—the early Rams—the Rams who played in the glorious LA Coliseum. Posters of the Fearsome Foursome, Roman Gabriel, and Jack Youngblood adorned my bedroom walls. Vince Ferragamo, “Hacksaw” Reynolds, and Eric Dickerson populated my card collection. My daily moods and outlook on life sadly fluctuated with the fortunes of Pat Haden and Jim Everett.

When the team moved east, however, the Rams lost a bit of their luster for me. Budweiser Clydesdales and Gateway Arches couldn’t hold a candle to the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Bowl, Rodeo Drive, and Venice Beach. I discovered that my love for the team was as fleeting as my hopes for movie stardom.

Therefore, there’ll be no divided loyalties this coming Sunday. I’ll be cheering wildly for the Cinderella Bengals. What a heartwarming story it will be when the midwestern team of my midlife sports-writing career takes on the west coast team of my youthful Hollywood dreams. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Here’s what else has worked out. My daughter, Katie, lives in LA. Unlike her dear old dad, she followed her heart and took the west coast plunge early on. Now I get an unexpected visit with her while working the game of my dreams–in the city of my dreams. It simply doesn’t get any better than that. I feel so blessed.

Super Bowl LVI, here I come. Please don’t wake me up.

Dr. John Huang covers professional sports for Sports View America. His latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, is available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

Weekend at Tourneys

Weekend at Tourneys

Okay, the SEC/Big East Challenge isn’t technically a “tourney,” but I needed a clever title to lead off this blog post. I’m hoping you get the movie reference as I bask in the heartland of America this weekend between the sports doubleheader of my dreams.

You see, I’m officially credentialed for the AFC Championship game on Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. However, I cruised into town a day earlier just so I could slide over to historic Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to watch my Wildcats spank the Jayhawks in what was supposed to be college basketball’s game of the year.

The buildup for this one had been huge, with ESPN’s College GameDay crew salivating in anticipation of a titanic tussle between the top two blueblood programs. The Jayhawk fans were also jacked. Their team had won four of the last five against the Wildcats, and they fully expected to be feasting on Kentucky fried chicken before the final horn sounded.

Haha, by now you know the ending: Kentucky 80, Kansas 62, in a game totally dominated by the Wildcats from beginning to end—a brutal beatdown for the ages. Forgive me if I gloat.

Mind you, today’s win was extra special because it took place in Allen Fieldhouse. I’ve never been to “The Phog” before. It’s on my Mount Rushmore of iconic basketball venues (together with Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, and—of course—Kentucky’s Rupp Arena). By most everyone’s standard, it’s a bucket-list destination.

To begin the Allen Fieldhouse experience, you walk into the hallowed halls of what looks like an airplane hangar. Immediately, you’re thrust into the distant past through a collage of exhibits and display cases. Trophies, personal mementos, and championship paraphernalia dating back to what seems like the beginning of time bombard your senses. The original rules of basketball are etched on the northwest annex of the building. You feel as if you’re standing on holy ground.

For this is where college basketball started. It’s like the “big bang” of big-time hoops with the ghosts of James Naismith, Phog Allen, and Adolph Rupp still roaming the various nooks and crannies. “Pay heed, all who enter: Beware of ‘The Phog,’” says the sign over the tunnel leading into the arena. Placards listing every single player who ever wore the Kansas uniform line an entire concourse wall. There’s definitely a sense of reverence and tradition you don’t get walking into Rupp Arena—or anyplace else for that matter. Lambeau Field perhaps? Maybe Fenway or Wrigley? Wimbledon?

There’s also no pretense with this place. It’s old and decrepit—and it doesn’t care. Forget about keeping up with the Joneses. Built in 1955, the building remains perfect just as it is, comfortable in its own antiquated, creaking skin. It’s hard to believe it seats only a couple of thousand less than a massive Rupp Arena. The stands are compact, the bleachers vertical in scope, with nary an extra inch of extra space for proper ingress or egress.

It’s also hot today—nearly unbearably hot. With outside temperatures approaching sixty, inside it’s ninety degrees and humid. It’s a breeding ground for Covid I’m sure. But unlike Rupp Arena, at least ninety percent of the patrons don masks.

And it is loud in here. From what I’ve been told, it’s consistently loud—not just when the Wildcats come calling. It’s a piercing type of loud too, whereas Rupp is more of a roar. I’ve heard it louder in Rupp (Minniefield to Bowie half-court alley-oop and dunk, Unforgettables beating Shaq, Tayshaun’s five threes). But to be fair, it’s hard being vocal when your team’s getting slaughtered. However, I will concede that when the 17,000 or so on hand started swaying to the singing of the KU alma mater and then morphed into the “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk” chant, goosebumps broke out on everyone, including myself.  

Today is also the first time in six years that I’m watching the Kentucky team play as a fan—with absolutely no media obligations. It’s liberating for sure to be able to cheer openly, loudly, and freely again with no repercussions whatsoever from the press box police. I’m even boldly brandishing the blue, shedding any specter of objectivity or impartiality that team media allegedly bears.

To be honest, I’ve missed this feeling more than I thought I ever would. I forgot what it’s like to feel your heart race or the angst rising in your gut right before tipoff. As the game begins, you’re straining as never before with every single misfire, contorting your body as if willing the shot to go in or grabbing that next rebound yourself. When things go well, you’re high-fiving others and yelling “Go Big Blue” at the top of your lungs.

My seat purchased from StubHub isn’t bad at all. It set me back a couple hundred, but it’s better than my usual media seat at Rupp. Of course, I’m surrounded by Kansas fans. A mom and daughter are seated next to me on one side. They’ve got their faces painted and are loaded for bear. On the other side of me are two old curmudgeons who apparently have been following the Jayhawks for decades.

By the time the final horn sounds, the mom and daughter are deathly quiet, their painted faces dripping with frowns. The two curmudgeons are lamenting about what Bill Self did wrong and how Calipari outcoached him. I’m all smiles.  

As a fan, there’s nothing more exhilarating than charging onto an enemy’s homecourt and taking their hearts. To do it in an environment considered by many to be the best in all of college basketball makes this a memory I’ll forever cherish.

If the Bengals win their game against the Chiefs today, perhaps I’ll retire permanently from this media gig. It’s much more fun being just a fan.

If you enjoy my writings as a basketball fan, check out my latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . Follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Testimony Time

Testimony Time

My grandmother (third from left in back row) and her daily prayers played a vital role in my faith journey.

Rather than starting the New Year off whining about the weather, or the Wildcats, or the ‘Rona, I thought I’d begin 2022 by doing something many of you may have already done.

I had the distinct pleasure the other day of sharing my personal Christian testimony with a Saturday morning men’s group. Sure, I’ve shared bits and pieces of my personal faith journey with others many times before. But I finally realized I had never presented it as a complete story from beginning to end.

I’d certainly never written it out for all the world to see. So, here it is—the story of my spiritual walk, preserved in writing (and possibly in perpetuity) for anyone who might be curious or bored enough to take a peek.

For those of you looking for a “Saul on the road to Damascus” type transformation, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Because for me, there was no childhood abuse, teenage drug addiction, or young adult promiscuity to overcome. I didn’t rob banks or commit serial murders before coming to know Christ. In fact, for the first thirty-five years of my life, I was just your average Joe, living a mundane worldly existence, with nary a thought for spiritual matters.

Although devoid of much drama, my journey was certainly unique in terms of my family heritage. Faith, as you might agree, is often a function of geography. The reality is that if you were born in India, you’ll most likely be Hindu. If you were born in Thailand, chances are you’ll be Buddhist. Based on those odds, I should have been a godless heathen laboring away in an obscure Nike shoe factory in China. Instead, I’m freely and comfortably living out my Christian faith in glorious retirement in the greatest country on the face of the earth.

How does that happen? You’re about to find out.

My entire spiritual journey can be summed up in two words: PREVENIENT GRACE…that God loved me even before I came into existence. He was saying to me exactly what he said to the prophet Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart.”

My personal story of being “set apart” begins four generations earlier in southern China. Before my dad was even a speck in my grandparents’ eye, some missionaries snuck into my great-grandfather’s village and shared with him the love of Christ. He accepted Jesus into his heart, and subsequently became—of all things—a pastor in the Chinese Christian Church.

His daughter, my grandmother, was extremely devout. I’ve since heard stories of how she was the ultimate prayer warrior, rising early every single day to pray for God’s blessing and for the salvation of her family for generations to come. I’m firmly convinced that the power of her fervent daily prayers undoubtedly shaped how this unlikely story would play out.

One of her sons—my dad—fled the mainland in 1949 (right before the Communists took over) to the island nation of Taiwan. While there, he studied Civil Engineering and married my mom who, believe it or not, also came from a Chinese Christian background. My older sister, Mary, was born a year later. I came along three years after that.

In 1963, my parents took a leap of faith by pursuing the American dream. They left the comfort of their native homeland and immigrated to the United States in hopes of making a better life for their children. My dad completed his graduate studies at the University of Virginia before taking a job as an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Kentucky. Shortly after arriving in Lexington, my younger brother, Michael, was born.

Growing up, our family wasn’t exactly religious. We knew about Christ but didn’t really know Christ—if you know what I mean. My mom and dad were way too busy assimilating into American culture, raising a family, and paying the bills. We didn’t have the time nor the interest in going to church. Other than an occasional cursory prayer at night, I don’t really remember having any specific spiritual regimens at all.

Then, when I was 13 years old, my dad got severely ill and nearly died. My mom made a pact with God saying that if my dad recovered, we would all reconnect with our long, lost spiritual roots. Sure enough, my dad miraculously recovered, and our whole family got baptized together several Sundays later.

To say I committed my life to Jesus at that point would be a bit of an overstatement. To be honest, it felt a bit forced. I didn’t really know what I was committing too. If truth be told, I hated going to church—getting up early, wearing itchy pants, sitting through boring sermons, and being ridiculed in youth group for my lack of biblical acumen. I went simply because my mom made me go.

How liberating it was for me, then—several years later—to finally leave home and never have to step foot in church on Sunday mornings again. I could sleep in, wear sweats, and watch football all day long to my heart’s content. I wasn’t rebelling against God by any means. I just didn’t see the necessity of giving him any of my precious free time.

It wasn’t until our daughter Katie was born that those long forgotten spiritual pangs (or pains) began to resurface. Like many of you parents reading this, both my wife, Kanisa, and I wanted our children to grow up in a Christ-centered home. So, we joined Centenary United Methodist Church and proceeded to pour ourselves into every available church-related activity. Sunday School, Wednesday night dinners, volunteer activities, children’s choirs, social events—you name it, we were there.

Despite it all, my apparent newfound piety was crafted more out of a sense of responsibility, duty, and obligation—rather than a true love for the Lord. I found myself still just going through the motions. It wasn’t until I was “volunteered” for the church adult discipleship team that my journey toward spiritual maturity honestly took off.

In regard to church committees, let me just say that there are far better ways to waste your life (I’ll leave it at that). But this discipleship team was different. Led by Pastor Ellen, I gradually, grudgingly, and painstakingly discovered that a relationship with Jesus Christ was indeed not only important, but it should be the most important thing in one’s life.

Mind you, this was no eureka moment. I didn’t have the scales peeled instantaneously from my eyes. It was more like the germination of a ripe seed that was planted in nutrient-deficient soil. Suddenly—with just enough sunlight and water—my curiosity got the best of me, and I began to explore.

I read through the entire Bible and all the various commentaries. You’d often see me in the public library, choking down everything I could find from the likes of Chuck Swindoll, Max Lucado, C.S. Lewis, or Francis Chan. I listened intently through countless sermons, began memorizing Scripture, teaching classes myself, and leading spiritual retreats. I participated in service projects and joined accountability and prayer groups—anything and everything to draw closer to a God I longed to know more about. I thought I was well on the way to getting the prize.

If you’re still reading up to this point, here’s where the story gets complicated. My goal is to encourage you, but I also don’t want to mislead. This journey of mine has by no means been linear. There have been a ton of ups and downs, highs and lows, forward surges and spiritual backsliding. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been blessed by the comfort and assurance of knowing Christ’s presence. But I’m also ashamed and embarrassed to tell you that I continue to have doubts through it all—sometimes huge, ever-lurking, and crippling doubts.

It didn’t matter how many prayers I’d prayed, how many sermons I’d dissected, how many Scripture verses I’d memorized—it was still hard for me to reconcile my faith with all the death and mourning and crying and pain going on in the world around me. I’m familiar with all the various discourses regarding original sin and free will. I’ve heard all the stories about Moses, and Noah, and Jonah in the belly of a huge fish. I can recite many of the Apostle Paul’s letters by heart.

It’s just when all those trials and tribulations hit so close to home that those crippling doubts started to resurface and take root. A good friend passes away unexpectedly, a business venture fails, a long-lasting relationship disintegrates. A downward spiral began when my mom developed Alzheimer’s. I wobbled a bit more when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. And then, Kanisa’s horrible ongoing bout with mental illness had me precariously balanced on the edge of unbelief. I desperately wanted to shake my fist at God and cry out, “Why?”

I think it was Alfred Lord Tennyson who wrote, “Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die.”

During one of Kanisa’s lowest moments, I was sitting with my pastor in our home listening to one of her numerous psychotic rants. I looked over at Pastor Tom with sorrowful, exasperated tears and asked him that burning question… “Why?”

He didn’t quote Tennyson, but his answer to me resonated just as loudly.

“I don’t know why,” he said. “But I do know this. God loves you. He also loves Kanisa. He’s with you right now, and he wants what’s best for both of you. No matter the obstacles, His grace is sufficient.”

There’s that word “grace” again. Prevenient grace—God loved me even before I knew him. Whether through my grandmother’s prayers, or my mom’s persistence, or just through landing on a random church committee, it’s easy to see in hindsight how God was preparing me for the challenges I’m facing today.

Here’s how else God has prepared me. Nope—it’s not through prayer, or Bible study, or worship, or meditation (although all those are certainly important). I’ve saved the best for last. Associating with other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ has done more to encourage and strengthen my faith journey than all the other spiritual disciplines combined.

I still can’t explain to you exactly why bad things happen to good people. But by watching how good people respond to bad things, you can’t help but be inspired by their sense of belief. It’s not their comprehension of God that’s compelling, but rather their connection with Him. Some of my dearest Christian friends have been through hell and back—but they continue to believe, persevere, and even thrive. I want what they’re having.

And you can have what they’re having too. Through God’s grace, a heavenly home for all of eternity is available for all of us. Won’t you accept His invitation? Just the fact that you’re reading these words is validation that He loves you and desires to have a relationship with you.

Here’s what I want to leave you with. Faith and Christian discipleship is a life-long journey. It doesn’t matter if you’re slow out of the blocks or if you’re fading down the stretch. You may feel as if you’re always running against the wind while dodging unexpected detours along the tortuous path. Just be assured that God is with you every step of the way on your way to grabbing the prize.

I don’t think I’m anywhere close to the finish line yet. But I do know that I’m closer now than I’ve ever been before. It’s the journey that matters.

Let’s press on together. It’s time to finish strong.