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

Postcards of Argentina (Part 2)

We were so impressed by the multi-colored mountains near Humahuaca in Northern Argentina.  More than 4000 feet above sea level!

We were so impressed by the multi-colored mountains near Humahuaca in Northern Argentina. More than 4000 feet above sea level!

We were in Argentina to celebrate our 2nd year anniversary and I felt really blessed to be in such an amazing country with my hubby.  On our actual anniversary date (Aug 30), we took tango lessons!  How fun…and awkward as we tried to master a few steps in a 90-minute lesson.  It was great fun!

Another highlight of the trip was traveling north to Humahuaca (5 hours north of Salta) to see these beautiful multi-colored mountains, slowly erroded over thousands of years.   Pretty impressive.

We loved our time in Argentina with the architecture in Buenos Aires reflecting its European roots. The locals were always so generous and friendly, and the markets were alive with handicrafts and odd trinkets like knives with an eagle claw as a handle.  After visiting the northeast and northwest as well as Buenos Aires, we hope to be back one day perhaps to travel south to Patagonia to visit the penguins.

Tango lessons from the professionals!

Tango lessons from the professionals!

We got the hang of it after a while...

We got the hang of it after a while…

Overlooking the city of Salta (Northern Argentina)

Overlooking the city of Salta (Northern Argentina)

Street vendor at bus station (Humahuaca, Northern Argentina)

Street vendor at bus station (Humahuaca, Northern Argentina)

Llama-embroidered hot water bottle as a welcome sight for our beds at night.  Temperature dropped to almost freezing in the Andes Mountains where we were

Llama-embroidered hot water bottle as a welcome sight for our beds at night. Temperature dropped to almost freezing in the Andes Mountains where we were

Empanadas and lemonade seemed to be our daily lunch routine

Empanadas and lemonade seemed to be our daily lunch routine

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!

 

 

 

My Last Day…After 7 Years

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We were given the “key” to the Beijing office.

After I said my goodbyes and stepped onto the elevator, I cried.  Big huge tears rolled down my cheeks, and I was surprised at how emotional I got.  7 years at my job!  And today was my last day.

I started at APCO in 2007 and I was hired to build a corporate university so that employees could take classes, sharpen their skills and become stronger consultants.  There wasn’t much training in place then, and it turned out to be the most challenging yet rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life.  I’m really proud of the APCO University we built.  And I hope that the learning will continue long after I leave.

Me teaching a class in Shanghai

Me teaching a class in Shanghai

Then there were the friendships which spurred me on when things got rough.  You get so close to people you work with day in and day out.  That’s the hardest part about leaving a job because you get used to venting with a colleague who can sympathize more than anyone else can.  You develop a connection, a bond with certain people, and long lasting unforgettable memories are formed.  Like the countless hours spent together to perfect a program for delivery.  Or how my famous nickname Webbie Dong was first created after an office manager in New Delhi got my name mixed up.  And the countless retelling of hilarious stories, including that time in Shanghai where someone reported out loud that a Chinese colleague couldn’t come to class because she had “diarrhea”.  No one noticed the absurdity of what was said except for me and our American COO.

At my farewell happy hour, my co-worker Liam made a sign of my famous nickname

At my farewell happy hour, my co-worker Liam made a sign of my famous nickname

Or how i experienced two earthquakes during my time at APCO:  at a  Beijing training where we felt the rumblings of the famous China earthquake miles away.  Half the participants ran out.   I clutched onto Philip who thought he was dizzy from jet lag when really the room was shaking.  The second earthquake was in DC when my co-worker Laurel and I suddenly saw our table move, and this time, I ran out.  Ah my earthquake buddies.

I will miss my colleagues.  It feels like leaving a family sometimes when leaving a job.

I’ll start my new job at Bloomberg in September and to be honest, I’m scared to death, yet excited.  I’m also rather irritated that I have to build work relationships all over again – why can’t I just bring my current colleagues over?  I know, I know.  Change is good.

Last week, out of the blue, my stepdaughter Prescilla said,  “You’re so outgoing.  Don’t worry.  You’ll make so many  friends at your new job.”  I was touched by that.  It’s true – I’ll make new friends.  And at least, in the meantime, I can still keep my old ones.

 

I love how goofy we can all get

I love how goofy we can all get

 

 

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.