Philip Kan Gotanda and the Meaning of Life

Reporting From Glendale, California.

My favorite part about tonight's opening reception of the Next Big Bang, held at the East West Players in Little Tokyo, was that fact that playwright Philip Kan Gotanda drank beer from a bottle while giving his keynote speech—a sprawling history of his life as an artist, which really is a microcosm for the sprawling history of Asian-American theater. Anheuser-Busch provided free booze all night long, so it seemed appropriate to be drinking wherever you happened to be——in the courtyard, in the restroom, behind a podium speaking to practically every Asian-American theater leader in the country.

As promised, I approached Philip and asked, "What should I do with the rest of my life?"

Without hesitation, he replied, "Be real."

It seemed like the right answer, although I kind of wished he said something that didn't make any sense, like, "Ponies look at trees funny."

I would've bought Philip a drink, but, remember, they were free, so it wouldn't have counted.


Theater artist and educator Roberta Uno gave the other keynote address. She's a thoughtful and very articulate speaker, who zeroed in on the evolving definitions of "Asian American," as well as "Asian-American theater"——pointing out that the multitude of subcategories that have cropped up over the years may be making traditional definitions of those terms irrelevant.

The most interesting part of her speech was the story of how Chinatown bus lines originated. Because there are more Chinese restaurants in the United States than McDonald's and several other major fast food joints combined, the business of bussing Chinese workers from Chinatowns on the East Coast to Chinatowns in other cities has become a very competitive yet lucrative venture. College students and travelers in the know are now taking advantage of $10 trips from New York to Boston, for example, so much so that Greyhound has had to lower its prices to stay in the market.


I bumped into a lot of people I knew at the conference, of course, but what a nice surprise it was to see Noel Alumit (author of the acclaimed novel, Letters to Montgomery Clift), who I used to call a "Filipino whore" on a regular basis. I interviewed Noel years ago on my Web site, and even today he still thinks I was mean to him. I was not, bitch!

For a very long time now, Noel has kept telling me to write a novel. But he knows very well that I haven't even read a novel in about eight years, so why would I want to commit to writing one?

"You've at least committed to buying my new book, right?" he asked.

I said, "Yes. I won't read it. But I'll buy it. Is that good enough?"

That seemed to give him some minor satisfaction, especially since he's been feeling a bit out of sorts. He doesn't know what to do now——his new novel is finished and he feels he has nothing else write about at the moment.

Of course, you know what I say.

Be real, Noel. Be real.


  1. There you go, being mean to me again. I was NOT out of sorts. You just like thinking that I'm depressed.

  2. Noel, I don't think you're depressed. I think you're suicidal.