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!

 

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

 

 

Welcome Back From Your Literary Journey

Travel NotebookA few days ago, my husband Eduardo gave me a “travel” notebook with names of cities printed all over the cover.  I instantly loved it.  He said, “Welcome back.”  What do you mean?  I’m here.  I’m not traveling.  He smiled and said, “A long time ago, you went to Tibet, Laos and Cambodia.  And now, you’ve written a book about it.  This whole journey has taken you a long time.  More than a decade.  Welcome back.  And congratulations on your memoir.  You did it!”

My literary journey of planning, writing and ultimately publishing my travel memoir THE SAME SKY has come full circle.  I have arrived!  This Friday February 28th is my official book launch event with 70+ people expected to come to celebrate its release.  I’m so thrilled!

The story began in 1999 when I was a Canadian expatriate in Beijing. Following a breakup and traumatic event, I packed my bag, camera and journal and went on a solo journey through Southeast Asia.  I was truly at the lowest point of my life.  However, heartfelt exchanges with locals inspired me to rediscover my strength and the peace I was looking for.  And most importantly, I found a courage in me that I never knew I had on my own.  I was a survivor and I didn’t want to wallow in my sorrow and waste away.

I had to tell this story.  I wanted to inspire women to believe that after a breakup, you can discover a strength tenfold in yourself and that you can overcome any calamities of the heart.  Traveling is also a wonderful way to explore and heal once again.

Thus, in 2001, after settling in New York, I started writing my travel memoir – at first on cocktail napkins, then on post-it notes as thoughts came to my mind.  I purchased a used IBM Thinkpad and carried it everywhere and frequented every Starbucks in my neighborhood.  While consuming a ton of lattes, I wrote my story in fragments, in themes, and then in chapters.  I joined a writing group and they became my dearest friends as we swapped chapters and encouraged each other on with feedback and honesty.  I booked trips to Greenwich, CT where I holed myself up in hotels for days to think and write.  The walls of my apartment were decorated with flip chart paper scribbled with story arcs and character development.  I kept writing.

Then I put my story away in a drawer for two years.  I faced an impasse.  I had reached the part in my literary journey where I had to really open up and share about the breakup and betrayal that had devastated me.  The lingering pain was still present.  I wasn’t ready to release it to the world.

In 2010, on my birthday, I crashed my bicycle into an SUV.  I flew over it and landed on the ground.  Hard.  After a frightful trip to the hospital, luckily I suffered no broken bones but I was pretty shaken up.  I survived that accident but it was a wake up call.  Life is short!  Get my memoir out there!!  I locked myself in my apartment with my manuscript and  finished the last several chapters, the most painful part of my story. Three years later, after several rounds with an editor, and a crash course in social media, I finally released it.

I’m proud that THIS FRIDAY February 28th is my official book launch at the Tibet House, a beautiful art gallery and community center that promotes Tibetan culture.  I couldn’t have found a better place since so much of my memoir takes place in Tibet.  As the first stop on my journey so many years ago, Tibet reminds me of the vulnerability of solo travel, and how I ventured out on my own.

I’m here now…returning home after a long literary journey.  But I won’t stay long – I’m ready for the next adventure.

Welcome to my book THE SAME SKY!

Welcome to my book THE SAME SKY!

 

Why I’m Only 75% Beautiful in Indonesia

I love renting bikes when exploring a new place

I love renting bikes when exploring a new place

Years ago, I met a Javanese artist who thought in percentages and actually told me that I was only 75% beautiful in Indonesia.  I was traveling solo through Yogyakarta, a community known for its artists with art studios lined up and down the streets.  In a café where I was having breakfast, he strolled over to me, sketchpad in one hand, the other gesturing at the empty seat next to mine. He was in his late 20s, Muslim like the rest of the population in Indonesia and his hair was black, thick and matted.  Around his neck sat a red painted wooden beaded necklace.

We chatted for a while about how he wanted to be an amazing artist like “Salvador Dali” with the “droopy watches” when he suddenly asked,  “How many husbands you have?”

“What?”  I had forgotten I was wearing a fake wedding ring.  Even though I was single at the time, I still wore a ring to be left alone while traveling.  “Uh…just one.  He’s waiting for me in Bali.”

“I see.”  He paused.  “Well, if another tsunami coming, you my wife okay?”  I laughed.  “Okay, deal.”  We high-fived across the table.  “I bet you say that to everyone.  How many wives do you have anyway?”

“I’m good Muslim.  I deserve five wives.  But for now, no wife.  No money, no wife.  In Indonesia, can have many wives.”

“Why do you think you’re a good Muslim?”

He touched his beaded necklace for a second. A flash of guilt crossed his face and then he said, “Only 50% good Muslim I am.  I pray, go mosque every day.  But I smoke and sometimes drink beer and if lonely, I have lucky-lucky with women.”

“Don’t you want to be 100% good Muslim?” I asked.

“Yes but I artist.  So I live artist life.  Why you only have one husband?”

“In Canada, I can only have one husband.”

“Oh.  Is he 100% good husband?”

I chuckled.  What’s up with the percentages?  “Yeah I guess so,” I said about my phantom husband.

He looked down at his paint-speckled hands.  “You are beautiful.  75% beautiful.”

I smiled.  “Only 75%?”

“Yes.  Better than most 100% foreign women, I think.  Maybe 50% of 100% foreign woman okay pretty.”

After that I went to his studio across the street to view some of his paintings which were really nice. He was quite talented.

He painted on cloth, stretched them out with wooden sticks and dried them in the sun.  One painting of three Javanese women posing and looking in the same direction drew me in.  It reminded me of my two sisters.  I decided to buy it.

“Really? I so pleased you buy!” he beamed.  He rolled it up and then placed it carefully in a brown paper bag and handed it to me with both hands.

“Miss Debbie, I enjoy our chat.  Now you are 90% beautiful!”

 

Welcome! Announcing my new book THE SAME SKY

Me chilling at a cafe

Me chilling at a cafe

Welcome to my blog! If you’ve made it this far, THANK YOU for taking the time to read my writing.  My book THE SAME SKY is finally published after more than a decade of writing, editing, drinking a gazillion lattes and more writing.

THE SAME SKY is about how after my relationship crumbled, I left for Asia with just a journal, camera and clothes.  Brokenhearted and needing to escape, I embarked on a three-month journey to Tibet, Laos and Cambodia. Along the way, as I navigated the difficulties of traveling alone, met new people and heard their moving stories of loss and resilience, I slowly began to recover my independence and learned to have faith in myself to overcome the hardships of life.

After many cups of teas, hours of conversations and lots of smiles, the locals shared stories of love, grief and the struggle for peace.  Their stories and small acts of love helped me heal and find the courage to believe in myself again.  THE SAME SKY is for anyone who has experienced heartbreak and betrayal, and I hope it will inspire the reader to find strength and peace even at the lowest point of one’s life.

Interesting stories are peppered throughout the book, including

  • Being rescued by a Cambodian woman after I was in a pedicab accident during a terrible storm
  • Detained by the Chinese police in Tibet for an expired visa
  • Witnessing my friend’s near-death experiencee near the Mt. Everest base camp
  • Drinking butter tea with Tibetan monks who bravely shared their courageous stories to stay alive

If you would like to read some excerpts, click here.  To buy the book, click here for the different options.

Please subscribe to my blog!  For those of you who know me well, I love storytelling…especially quirky, funny and sometimes heart-felt exchanges between strangers.  All you have to do is include your email address on the right hand side.

Thanks as always for your support!

The Same Sky Promo