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

Introducing My New Favorite Animal: The Sloth

Check out the beautiful smile on this sloth!

Check out the beautiful smile on this sloth!

When we went to Costa Rica, one of my highlights was discovering…the sloth!  It appears to be so peaceful and cute with its beautiful smile.  Its activities pretty much hold true to its name:  it uses very little energy to hang out in trees and it crawls at a snail’s pace from one place to another.  In fact, during one of our hikes, we discovered a three-toed sloth crossing the road.  I stared at it for 30 minutes – it moved about 12 inches.  Watch out for its claws which can cause some serious damage if you get too close.

I actually begged and pleaded with my husband to get one as a pet but alas, a lazy slow-moving sloth trapped in a NYC apartment wouldn’t have been cool.

Sloths are interesting creatures.  3 Fun Facts:

1.  Most two-toed and three-toed sloths live only in Central and South America and they eat mainly leaves.

2.  Although they’re super slow on land, they’re actually amazing fast swimmers in the water.

3.  Once a week, they climb down from the trees and poo / pee in the same spot and then climb back up again.

Swinging sloth - this guy can stay up in the trees for days.

Swinging sloth – this guy can stay up in the trees for days.

How long does it take for a sloth to cross the road?  Apparently a VERY long time.

I spent 30 minutes staring at this sloth crossing the road.  It moved about 12 inches.

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

 

Europeans Have It Right: Simple Breaks Throughout the Day

Cappuccino with a small croissant

Cappuccino with a small croissant

I love the Europeans’ take on a “coffee break”. While traveling on business in Rome and Paris recently, I’ve discovered the little ‘pauses” of a work day, a refreshing change from the go-go-go work style I’ve been used to in New York.

“Let’s take a coffee break,” said Valeria, my lovely Italian colleague in Rome.   I assumed she meant going to the local Starbucks, buying a ridiculously big coffee for take-away and drinking it from my desk.  That’s all I’ve known since working in NY for more than a decade.

I soon discovered that was not the case.  As we crossed the bustling Via Condotti street packed with tourists, I felt relief to get out of the confines of the office and to get fresh air and enjoy a few minutes of the Rome scene.  Only a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps, I might add.

We entered a trendy cafe with two baristas working the gigantic  espresso machine that stretched across the counter.  “Now, we take a coffee,” Valeria said, with a slight clip of an Italian accent.

My colleagues from the Rome office:  Luca and Valeria

My colleagues from the Rome office: Luca and Valeria

Luca, my other colleague, bellowed out some orders in Italian, and soon three empty cups plunked in front of us.  We bellied up to the bar.  Espressos were poured into the cups, as small as shot glasses, and we downed them in a matter of seconds.  I loved the buzz.  Then we chatted for several minutes about work, life and weekend plans.  Other customers hovered around munching on biscottis.  Petit sandwiches and palm-sized croissants (and not the monstrously big croissants back in the U.S.) sat in a row on the counter.  I noticed whether in Paris, Brussels and Rome, people ate lightly throughout the day.  And always a piece of dark chocolate here or there to tie you over to the next meal.  Twenty minutes later, we were back in the office, and I felt better, my spirits lifted.

Small palm-sized treats

Small palm-sized treats

“Why are you eating alone?  I will join you now for lunch,” said one co-worker to me earlier that day.  I was so used to eating alone, and I welcomed a break to eat and chat.   My Rome colleagues gathered around in the boardroom with their lunches and we ate together.  They unpacked their salads, proscuitto ham and bread, and the boardroom table transformed into a mini picnic.

“It’s good to take a break,” one colleague said.  He had spent some time in the U.S. and commented on how strange it was that Americans would eat their lunch over the keyboard while working.  Oh I’ve been guilty of that.

“I guess to be efficient?” I said.  He laughed and said, “You have to pause in the day.  You feel more refreshed and then you can go back to work.  Simple.”

Indeed.  I think the Europeans have it right to take short breaks, enjoy an espresso & a small piece of chocolate, before heading back to the grind, a little more rejuvenated to take on the rest of the day.

Hubby joins me in Rome for a long weekend

Hubby joins me in Rome for a long weekend

Let’s Chill Like the Buddha – My Day Off in Paris

 

Chill out! said the Buddha

Chill out! said the Buddha

“Why can’t you just chill out?” said the Buddha, his face calm and steady before me.  It was my day off in Paris today after a long week of work, and I had big plans.  Big plans, I tell you!  I wanted to cram way too much Parisian activity into a weekend, starting with visiting the Guimet Asian Art Museum.

By the time I arrived there, I was a sweaty mess.  I had walked way too fast because of the limited time to see the Buddhist sculptures exhibit before seeing a friend.  I huffed up the stairs, bought my ticket and then ran into a slow-moving tour group.  Move out of my way, I have to see some Buddhas!

Of course, the Buddha’s peaceful face mocked me.  How can I possibly enjoy the gorgeous Angkor-era Buddhist statues and bas reliefs in this gorgeous museum when I’m rushing around?  I couldn’t possibly enjoy the moment.  Traveling isn’t about ticking the boxes and cramming a gajillion activities into a weekend. It’s about exploring the moment and soaking up the culture and everyday life around me.

So for the rest of the day, I abandoned my to-do list..  After drinking tea and eating yummy macarons with an old friend, I explored the Marais, the hip shopping area with small windy roads, and I got lost.  Gladly.  I did manage to find Place des Vosges, a bustling park, and I read a book and watched a group of teenage girls munch on cheese and crackers as they gawked at boys nearby doing the same.

 

Place des Vosges, Marais

Place des Vosges, Marais

I’m reminded again of how I can get so caught up with doing it all, seeing it all. that I miss out on the main reason why I enjoy traveling:  to explore a new place and to live in the moment.

Well, tomorrow’s a new day!  Off to bed…will keep the Buddha’s calm face in mind.