Happy Birthday The Same Sky!

The Same Sky - my travel memoir

The Same Sky – my travel memoir

Wow – a year ago this past weekend was my official book launch of The Same Sky, my travel memoir in Tibet and Southeast Asia after a failed relationship.  Looking back on that special night of the launch held at the splendid Tibet House, I feel blessed that more than 115 people came out for an evening of readings from my book, Q&A and stories from other travel writers.  And it wasn’t just any random audience – they were travel enthusiasts coming together to share the love of culture, exploration and self-reflection.

In the past year since the book launch, I’ve held three more events:  two Same Sky Cafe: Evening of Travel Storytelling in New York and another book launch in Vancouver, my old stomping ground.  There has always been a great turnout of interested travelers who come and listen to travel stories by me and other writers as well as view photography from Bhutan and Cambodia.  Wow the buzz and excitement in the room afterwards!

The night of my book launch a year ago

The night of my book launch a year ago

So why do I bother doing any of this?

To me, I want to pay it forward.

I moved to NY in 2000 feeling brokenhearted, lost and vulnerable after a particularly bad breakup.  I wanted to write about my story and how I escaped with just a backpack and journal to far-flung Tibet, Laos and Cambodia for three months to rediscover myself.  I needed to share what happened and to give hope and peace to others who also suffered calamities of the heart.  Now, years later, I finally published my story that has helped me pay it forward to others through my book and the travel storytelling events I put together.  Not only do I share the love of travel but other main messages surface:  you are not alone.  As you travel along your emotional and physical journey, you meet locals who have experienced war and death, and they can inspire you to believe in a strength you never knew you had.

And if those messages can touch someone’s heart whether through my book or at my event, then it has been well worth the effort.

Here’s to another opportune year for The Same Sky!

My book launch last year

My book launch last year

 

Q&A at my book launch last year

Q&A at my book launch last year

Great turnout of 62+ people at the Same Sky Cafe in NY (June 2014)

Great turnout of 62+ people at the Same Sky Cafe in NY (June 2014)

My book for sale at the events

My book for sale at the events

Book launch in Vancouver

Book launch in Vancouver

Most recent Same Sky Cafe event in Feb 2015 in NYC

Most recent Same Sky Cafe event in Feb 2015 in NYC

Panel discussion about the lure of travel

Panel discussion of travel bloggers about the lure of travel

The Same Sky Cafe: A Successful Evening of Travel Story-Telling

IMG_3487What do a wandering yak, a marooned couple with a jetski and a sad Laotian woman reminiscing about the war all have in common?  They are stories from The Same Sky Cafe: Travel Readings from Debbie & Friends.  And what a turnout!  62+ people showed up to celebrate our evening of storytelling on June 17th in NYC at the K-Lounge, a comfy lounge with delicious Indian food.  I shared readings from my published travel memoir The Same Sky including a harrowing yet intriguing story about how I got arrested in Tibet.  There were fab readings from CeCe Yuan about a Paris mishap and  Mackenzie Miller who read a delightful piece about self-reflection and traveling.

Then Sandra Pike took us on a photo journey to Cambodia and Burma, peppered with heartwarming stories along the way.  The Mom Wong Monologue was also a hit as I highlighted the comical yet realistic cultural divide for an immigrant mom raising her children in Canada so many years ago.

Crowded room!  Great turnout of 62+ people.

Crowded room! Great turnout of 62+ people.

And the panel moderated by Alex Damian, fellow Canadian, was very interesting as we heard about Kathryn Cooper’s intrepid journeys to far-flung locales while Kristin Fields’ hilarious yet heroic navy rescue during a not-so-great cave trip drew giggles from the audience. (“What do you mean your rescuers wanted to be paid by credit card??”)  I also described a silly story about how I was stuck in a tiny town in Burma and the whole village turned up for a pig roast in honor of our visit.

My highlight?  That it was an evening that touched us differently.  One woman shared how she felt inspired to travel to a remote off-the-beaten-track country soon.  Another person wrote that my reading about a Laotian woman who revealed her suffering during the Vietnam War reminded her of the bravery of those in war-torn countries “who remain compassionate, generous and determined.  I think we need to be reminded of the ability to overcome adversity and bitterness and still interact with fellow occupants of this planet.”  Great email!

Finally, a really touching moment:  I met a Canadian guy at the end of the evening as we were all shuffling out of the K-Lounge.  He asked to buy my book The Same Sky for his sister who is facing a similar situation of a breakup and the quest to find oneself, the main theme of my book.   Later, he sent me an email: “I walked away from that evening with a real sense of connection with you and your fellow panelists…and the mindset behind the decision-making to set out on a journey, to move forward and the many discoveries found along the way.”

Wonderfully written!  The whole purpose of the evening was to bring artists and travelers together to share the beauty of traveling and self-discovery so that we can open our hearts to other cultures.  I’m pleased that we accomplished our main goal for many who attended the evening.  More travel storytelling events to come!

I also sold some The Same Sky books that evening to interested travelers!

I also sold some The Same Sky books that evening to interested travelers!

 

Photographs by Kathryn Cooper and Sandra Pike on our promotion table

Photographs by Kathryn Cooper and Sandra Pike on our promotion table

Our presenters (from left to right):  Sandra Pike, Alex Damian, Kathryn Cooper, Kristin Fields and Debbie Wong

Our presenters (from left to right): Sandra Pike, Alex Damian, Kathryn Cooper, Kristin Fields and Debbie Wong

 

“Stay beside death and cry? No, you keep moving…”

DSCF0915Neither one of us said anything for several minutes.  Only the occasional slurping of tea could be heard.

“When I little girl, I so scared,” said Ann, a Laotian I had met earlier that day and invited me in for tea.

“We living in village close to Sepon, near eastern border between Laos and Vietnam.   We so poor, my family.  Always not enough to eat.  And every day, I look outside and bombs falling and falling.  Everything burning:  houses, animals, my people.  One day, our village on fire so my father take us.  To another village.  For many days, we walking and walking.”

She paused.  Then she said, “And on road, we see so many dead bodies.  But my father always say to us to keep moving, must keep moving.”

Here was a woman who had seen her entire country razed to the ground and yet she thought I was brave for traveling solo in Laos.  She had done the bravest thing of all: to put one foot in front of the other on a corpse-riddled road.  Just to survive.  To not let the most ghastly sights slow her down.

It was a secret war in Laos from 1964 to 1973 that had raged all throughout the country, occupied by the Americans and Vietnamese at the cost of thousands of innocent lives.  Even though Laos was technically a neutral state, the Vietnamese stayed anyway and took over the eastern part of Laos along the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail.  And for many years, the Americans dropped bombs to stop the spread of communism in and around the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Not many knew about Laos and their unwanted role in it.  It was forgotten, hidden in CIA files and memos that only recently came to light.

“Ann, I can’t…imagine how you must’ve felt seeing all those dead bodies.”

“Yes, what to do?  Stay beside death and cry?  No, you move.  Always moving.  Must leave war and death behind you.”  She sighed, her long breath coming deep from her belly, and she set her teacup down for the last time.

She didn’t say any more about it. I prompted her to continue, but she was silent. Her face looked sadder, and I stopped my queries that seemed to pull down the corners of her mouth.  I knew I had gone as far as I could with her about the war.

Instead, she leaned back in her chair and we chatted politely about my trip to Lao Pako the next day, and the upcoming journey north to Luang Prabang.  We finished our talk just in time for the power to go out, as it always seemed to at the same time every night.  She lit a candle, placed it in a metal holder and then gave it to me, her palms encircling my own.

“Good luck to you.  I enjoy our talk,” she said, her eyes searching my face.

“Thank you.  I really appreciated it and more than anything I—”

“Ssssh,” she hushed me.  “No need to say.  My country suffer so much during war.  I lucky am alive.   Live your life.”

Bowing my head out of respect, I clasped my hands together and she reciprocated.  When I lifted my head, she had already crossed the room, the long back panel of her silk dress swirling behind her.

This was an excerpt from THE SAME SKY.  If you’re like to read more, you can click here.

Highlights From My Book Launch!

DSCN3662

Welcome to THE SAME SKY book launch!

My book launch of THE SAME SKY last Friday was a big hit!  I remembered how nervous I was in the days and then the hours leading up to my event.  And as I saw more and more people stream into the Tibet House, I relaxed. I felt warmed by all these people I knew over the years from all facets of my life. And that TODAY was the big day to release my book to everyone. It is finally the end of a long literary journey, and the start of a new beginning for THE SAME SKY, which has been “my baby” as I’ve watched it develop from an idea to a full fledged memoir.  To me, the book is grown up now and ready to explore the world!

Three highlights:

1.  When I came to New York in 2000, I didn’t know a soul.  So I was thrilled to see that so many of my friends I’ve made over the years turn up to show their support.  Some of them I haven’t seen in years including work colleagues (former and current), writer circles, Canadian expatriates, biking team members, hair dresser, strength trainers, and neighbors.  Many came as far as Washington DC, Vancouver, North Carolina and Prince Edward Island.  Wow!  Their beautiful smiles in the audience reminded me of how all of us touch people in their lives, and they in return have a soft spot in our hearts.  Heartfelt exchanges I had with the locals during my trip are just as special as the friendships I have made here in NYC and I’ll never forget them.

DSCN3689

Jenny Malcolm hosted the Q&A

2.  What an interactive event!  I wanted to ensure it was a creative evening with lots of readings, including Q&A which my best friend Jenny helped host.  Well done! I read several excerpts from THE SAME SKY and then I invited other readers to share their stories from traveling to Saudi Arabia and Mali.

3.  Since the event, a few have reached out to me to share that they feel inspired to travel to Southeast Asia.  Wonderful!  One woman described how she recently suffered a breakup and would like to read THE SAME SKY as a way to reflect on her situation and rediscover herself again.  Good for her.

Fellow writer Paul and I co-read one of my readings

Fellow writer Paul and I co-read one of my readings

 

 

Interesting facts and figures:

-110: actual number of attendees! (we planned for 70!)
-60:  number of gyozas or dumplings I made
-33:  books sold!
-12:  bottles of wine that were gone at the start of the event
-10:  years to write the book and another 3 to publish it

-4: readers who shared a portal of their lives

-3: Buddhism books I gave away during the raffle

-2:  references to my mother (in THE SAME SKY reading and also Mom Wong)

-1: awesome and successful book launch!

What’s next?  Stay tuned for more readings in NYC and elsewhere, even a debut of Mom Wong, a monologue that describes the hilarious yet poignant perspectives of immigrating to Canada.

If you missed it, here’s the book launch on YouTube:  THE SAME SKY BOOK LAUNCH VIDEO

Thanks again for all your support over the years!

What a crowd!

What a crowd!