What Makes Love Last?

We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for our anniversary

We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for our anniversary

I recently discovered a podcast called What Makes Love Last?  which captured exactly what I needed to hear at the moment about love, life and relationships.

Last Sunday was our 3rd year wedding anniversary, so it was good timing to hear tips from Dr. Gottman, a relationship guru on love or in other words, how not to let your marriage tank.  Apparently, what makes love last isn’t always the far-flung trips abroad. Nor the expensive jewelry or even the five star restaurant meals. Quite simply, it’s the every day humdrum of life: the words of appreciation for picking up takeout and the thank yous for vaccuuming even if your partner’s turn to do it.  A big part of this is “turning towards each other” and really taking an interest in his life like listening to a problem and showing empathy without always wanting to jump in there with a solution.

Why do these things matter?

If these small acts of love are peppered throughout the day to build the “emotional bank account”, then when conflict does happen, all that love capital acts as a buffer. In other words, we are going to be much more loving and kind to each other even when arguing and then it’s easier to ‘repair’ the relationship.  But if there’s a zero balance in the emotional bank then, well, the claws come out and it just isn’t pretty.

Introducing the newest member to our family: Baby Claire!

Introducing the newest member to our family: Baby Claire!

Did I mention we just had a baby this year?  Although we adore our new daughter Claire who is truly a joy, life has changed completely for us:  sleepless nights, cranky conversations about poo / diapers and lots of stress and uncertainty about how to navigate life with a new baby.  Moments like these can make it hard to be loving to each other. I can see now how divorce rates skyrocket during a couple’s first year of having a baby. So lately we’ve been trying hard to follow Dr. Gottman’s easy tips: showing appreciation for making dinner, saying thank you for taking out the garbage even if it’s the person’s turn anyway.  And listening to his passion that may not necessarily be mine like his enthusiasm for archery and Genghis Khan’s conquests. (Ask me anything about Genghis and I’ll tell you!)

One of the best tips I ever heard was from my friend Jenny who has two boys and she shared this: connect together as a couple for a few minutes when coming home after work.   This is so important to do because it’s easy to rush into questions about the baby, laundry and who picked up milk.  Jenny recommended a connection area like the foyer but in our tiny 2 bedroom NYC apt, the three foot radius behind the front door next to the coat rack will do. Every evening, when we come home from work we try to hug, connect, ask questions and listen before we enter into a flurry of our usual evening activities with the baby.  So simple, yet it’s not always done.

We don’t have all the answers and I’m baffled at how hard it is to manage our lives as new parents without falling apart.  Sometimes I look at other couples on the subway and wonder how they do it.  Dr. Gottman mentioned that the divorce rate is too high in the U.S. because people give up too easily.  Perhaps the idea of trying hard is insurmountable to many when actually the little acts of appreciation every day make a huge difference between staying together and growing apart.  I’m leaning more towards making our love last.  Here’s to another three years!

 

Rest in Peace IYee

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Me and IYee last year

One of the saddest moments this year has been my favorite aunt passing away.  My “I-Yee” was a rock for us:  she was a big sister and best friend to my mom, a pillar of strength for her six children, and a beloved aunt and friend to the rest of us kids growing up.

The funeral was last month in Seattle and I couldn’t attend due to starting a new job.  That day, I was rather sad knowing that I wouldn’t be there in person to wish her goodbye.  Just only a couple of months earlier, during a Skype chat, I saw her fatigued yet hopeful face, and I knew then it would be the last time I’d see her.

IYee and her six children

IYee and her six children

When the doctor first confirmed her cancer, we were told she would only have a few months to live.  She lived for almost two years more.  All of us felt blessed that we got that extra time with her!

No doubt, my IYee had a tough life raising six kids in a new country where she barely spoke English with a semi-absent husband.  She still managed to remain resilient and optimistic with her words of encouragement and steady presence.

IYee had a way of making everyone feel so good

IYee had a way of making everyone feel so good

My IYee had a wonderful sense of humor and a tremendously positive outlook in life.  Sometimes family members would vent and share frustrations, and my IYee often responded in the most Buddhist way with “It’s okay.  Life is short.  Love your kids no matter what, no matter how different their paths may take them.”  She embodied true openness and love.

Her heydays were in Hong Kong where she grew up as a teenager.  As a young thriving soul, she used to cruise through the Hong Kong markets, arm in arm with her friends.  She frequented the wonton noodle shops and window-shopped with curiosity.  And someone told me that back then, she loved riding on the back of a friend’s motorcycle, laughing and smiling with not a care in the world.  I’d like to keep that image in mind whenever I think of her now.

Two sisters:  IYee and my mom.  Although they were 16 years apart in age, they were very close and talked almost every day on the phone.

Two sisters: IYee and my mom last year. Although they were 16 years apart in age, they were very close and talked almost every day on the phone.

When we received the news about her death last month, we were prepared.  We had known for months that the day would come soon.  Acceptance had come in and through us, and all that was left was the waiting.  But still, on the day of her death last month, I cried.  How can she leave us?  I was then comforted with an image of her younger days when she used to ride the back of a motorcycle with her hair whipping back, the sun warm on her face.  She lived her life, freely and openly with a positive attitude that touched so many of us.

Rest in peace IYee.  We will miss you so much.

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Top 5 Highlights of the Canadian Debut Book Launch of The Same Sky

DSCN3982After a successful book launch in New York of The Same Sky followed with a travel storytelling event in June, Vancouver was next.  My old stomping ground!

At first, I thought a handful of family members and friends would come, but we ended up with 45 people last Wednesday!  Wow, I felt so blessed.

 

What a great turnout!

What a great turnout!

Top 5 Highlights:

Highlight #1:  Great support from family and friends including childhood buddies I hadn’t seen in 26 years!

Susie, me and Lisa - first time in 26 years!

Susie, me and Lisa – seeing them for the first time in 26 years!

It was great to see my family there especially my parents who heard the final reading about my grandmother’s death as part of The Same Sky.  How cool that my loves ones could be there for me.  And that some of my childhood friends turned up for it!

Highlight #2:  Awesome readings from Henry Lee, Jai Yehia and Adelina Wong

I loved how the other readers at my event did a fantastic job sharing their travel stories.  Jai’s wonderful piece called “Should I Take Off My Shoes at Pol Pot’s House?” was about Cambodia with reflections on it’s not-so-distant genocidal past, while also ending on a positive note about the optimism of its people.

Both Adelina and Henry also reflected on questions about home, identity and belonging in their pieces – Adelina about her expatriate life in Budapest and Henry about his contemplations on life while watching a sun set in Chile.  All very touching.

Highlight #3:  Now my mom wants to write a memoir

My parents

My parents

The next morning after the Vancouver book launch, my mom shared how she stayed up late thinking about her own past and that she would like to capture her life lessons and experiences on paper.  I was touched that my book launch stirred up a motivation for my mom, who is relatively private about her tough childhood, to write about her life.

Highlight #4:  I sold 90% of my books!

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Highlight #5:  Fantastic Q&A moderated by Jenny Malcolm

If you can believe it, Jenny first flew out to NY to moderate my Q&A during my first book launch.  I welcomed her back to do it again in Vancouver.  She did great!  The questions asked by the audience were excellent:  will I write a second book?  What has been the long process of writing and capturing my thoughts over time to complete the book?   What are some harrowing lessons learned when traveling?  Thanks for the awesome questions!

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I’m so thankful for all the support from everyone in my beloved hometown Vancouver.  Stay tuned…next year, we hope to run The Same Sky Cafe, a night of travel storytelling!

 

 

 

Cezare – an Old Friend & His Message of Hope

Eduardo, Maria and Cezare

Eduardo, Maria and Cezare

As soon as we walked in the door, Cezare shouted enthusiastically:  “Please, sit down!”  “You must stay for a long time!” and “Please, you will have lunch with us!”  Then came the food:  BBQ pork ribs, cheese, salad, bread and saucisson.

“Oh my god, we just ate at IHOP.  I can’t eat any of this,” said my stepdaughter Prescilla through clenched teeth.

“Ssshh,” I said.  “Let’s be nice to Daddy’s friend.  They haven’t seen each other in years.”

Earlier that day, we were driving through Matawan, NJ where my husband Eduardo had lived for 12 years during his previous marriage.  So many memories, I thought as he pointed out his old hang-out spots.  Then we drove past a house with its neatly manicured lawns and colorful flowers that decorated the front.

“He’s alive!” he said.  “Let’s go in and visit.”

Cezare was Eduardo’s neighbor and their back lawns used to be connected.  At 85 years old, Cezare was still strong as an ox and cared for his garden long after retiring as a landscaper. For more than a decade, their friendship strengthened.  After spending hours doing yard work, the men would relax and chat over homemade wine and eat his famous grilled Sicilian ribs.

Then over time, as his marriage started to disintegrate, Eduardo spent less time taking care of his backyard.  Cezare saw less of his friend, and then the visits stopped altogether when Eduardo moved away to NYC.  That was eight years ago.

A delicious Italian lunch for us (that was our second lunch that day!)

A delicious Italian lunch for us (that was our second lunch that day!)

Cezare couldn’t stop beaming the moment we walked in.  First the look of surprise at seeing his old friend after all these years.  Then a flurry of English, Spanish and Italian words as they caught up on each other’s lives.  They understood each other and that’s what mattered.  Eduardo looked so happy to be reunited with his old friend.

When Cezare first greeted me, he pulled me close and kissed me on the cheek.  Then he shook my hand so firmly that I thought it was going to fall off.  He looked great for his age and I could tell from his tanned face and weathered skin that he still spent most of his waking hours outside taking care of his beautiful garden.

His wife Maria was lovely too – she was a plump Italian mom who couldn’t stop serving us food.  “You married good man,” she told me with her thumbs up.

During our meal, in broken English, Cezare shared about his grandson getting married and how it was harder for him to get around and take care of his garden now that he was older.  “Your baby?” he asked, probably referring to how Eduardo had a little baby at the time.  He laughed and pointed at Prescilla, “She’s not a baby anymore.  She’s 14!”

After much eating (after all, it was our second lunch!), and  as we were getting ready to leave, Cezare looked pensive.  He quietly asked what had happened.  Eduardo said that back then he had to leave, that his marriage had ended and he needed to move on.  I sensed the feeling of loneliness that Cezare must’ve felt years ago when his friend had left without saying goodbye.  And that for many years, he probably wondered if Eduardo was happy and If he’d ever see his dear friend again.  He was like a son to him.

Then Cezare patted Eduardo on the back and said, “Ah you happy.  You have new family.  Good!”  Then he boomed out an Italian phrase with the words “prima vida” over and over again as we headed to the car.

Later I asked Eduardo what Cezare had said before we left.  He grinned and said, “After a difficult period, sometimes you reach the prime of your life.”

Yes, I think that’s true.

 

 

Happy Father’s Day!

Father's Day PicLast week, long after the moving trucks drove away and we had the laborious task of unpacking our boxes in our new apartment, I came across my father’s memoir.

Several years ago, I bought a tape recorder and I interviewed my dad, recording hours of dialogue about the history of my extended family and how we ended up in Canada. All my life, he had talked about the importance of our family history and where we came from and the hardship that our family endured to stay in Canada.  As a teenager, I had tuned it out in favor of listening to MTV music videos and gabbing on the phone with friends.  As an adult, and with my father getting older, I became curious about my Chinese heritage, and I needed to capture the family history soon.  Otherwise all the memories and stories would fade into the background and our future generation would never know the truth of how my parents left their Taishan villages in China to follow the dream of a better life in Canada.  So I recorded the long history of my family background including my mother’s, and then I transcribed them onto paper.

Our interview was one of the most touching things that my father and I ever did together.  He not only shared about his own experiences but he even went as far back as 1891 to describe how his forefathers toiled in China and eventually ended up in Vancouver only to face the unfair Head Tax imposed on Chinese immigrants back in the day.  I learned a lot too, including how my father suffered seasickness while on a boat from China to Canada, how he was a scared immigrant teenager attending King George high school with barely any English, and how he worked multiple jobs (i.e. taxi driver, milk delivery man, wrestling match ticket seller) over the years to keep the family going.

So when I discovered the memoir again, it brought back memories of his honest storytelling and the urgency to get this bit of history out there for my siblings and our children to read one day.  On Father’s Day, I would like to give a shout out to my courageous and generous father who has always put our family first and instilled in us a spirit of bravery and perseverance!

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father’s Day!