Highlights From My Book Launch!

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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.

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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!

 

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!

 

What First Intrigued Me about Tibet

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Potala Palace

My curiosity about Tibet went way back.  As a kid, I was an avid stamp collector, and I remember scouring the globe for this obscure place, Tibet, that didn’t have its own stamps.  Every other country had its own.

“Because they’re part of China,” my dad shrugged and went back to mowing the lawn, the air thick with the smell of grass and new spring.  As I pulled out weeds with my small fists, I was determined to get to the bottom of it.  How strange.  Even odder that their leader, the Dalai Lama, with his big thick dark glasses and his kind warming face that reminded me of hot soup on a rainy day, wouldn’t go back to Tibet.  He seemed to travel a lot but just never went home.

I learned years later that the Dalai Lama’s life had been threatened, and he had fled his homeland to escape the Chinese occupation.  I couldn’t imagine another country invading Canada and our Prime Minister having to escape or be killed.

Then I hit my teenage years and forgot about faraway countries that had no stamps and a homeless leader, and I concentrated on school, boys and why my body was changing so much.  It wasn’t until after my university days that a BBC documentary about Tibet awakened my desire to travel there again.  As my eyes followed the procession of Tibetan monks trailing the prayer wheels circuit, I thought:  I have to go there one day.  Everything seemed so peaceful. The way the colorful prayer flags decorated the exterior of temples and mountain passes, like ribbons on presents.  The way the saffron robes graced the creaking floors of wooden temples, while the low, soothing sounds of Tibetan trumpets echoed in hallways.

This isolated place, tucked away in the Himalayan Mountains, where McDonalds and Coca Cola hadn’t penetrated, fascinated me. There would be no Starbucks on every corner, no ads constantly flashing in my face, or at least I didn’t think so.  I wanted to experience that seclusion, to let my fingers run down the walls of temples where only my footsteps could be heard padding up and down the stairs.

My curiosity for Tibet never left me, but it would be many years before I would travel near that region.  Not only was it difficult to get there, but Tibet had been closed to tourists for many years.  Instead, shortly after university, I traveled to other places in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.  But now that I was at Tibet’s doorstep, it was time.

And then there was the lure of Mount Everest, its first base camp by the border between Tibet and Nepal.  Imagine standing at the foot of the highest mountain on earth!  Throughout high school, I had read fascinating stories of those who succeeded and many who perished climbing to the formidable peak, the ground littered over the years with their frozen corpses.

I could go anywhere after that.  Thailand, with its beautiful beaches.  Burma, with its hundreds of abandoned Buddhist temples dotting the landscape.  Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temples.

I wanted to cruise down an unknown street and try a different concoction of food every day, to get lost in a crowd, to be nameless, to relish the transience of meeting others who didn’t care about knowing my past or belonging to my future.  I wanted the here and now, the freedom to be engaged in the moment.

This was an excerpt from THE SAME SKY  For more excerpts, click here

Webbie Dong was Born

Me at the Taj Mahal

Me at the Taj Mahal

Years ago, on a business trip to New Delhi, I stumbled off the plane after a 16-hour flight in a dazed, dehydrated mess.  It was midnight, the air smelled stuffy and tired passengers swarmed all around me.
I just needed to find a bed and sleep for a million years.

I walked past customs, the fluorescent lights flickering above me, and I scanned the crowd for my driver.  It felt funny having one especially since I had spent part of my 20s backpacking through S.E. Asia on my own, living out of a bag.  But my Delhi office insisted on a driver for my own safety especially at that late hour.

Then I spotted a guy carrying a sign: “Welcome Mr. Webbie Dong”.

I squinted and shook my head.  What part of that sign is correct??  I dismissed the idea that it could be me, chalking it up to the possibility that there could indeed be a Webbie Dong.  After all, I was extremely jetlagged and who was I to second guess someone’s name so closely akin to mine?  I kept walking.

Wait a second…what if…?

I turned back and approached him.

Me:  Sir, I’m Debbie Wong.  I think you’re my driver.
Him:  (looking me up and down) I’m looking for Mr. Webbie Dong.
Me:  I think there’s been a spelling error.  Really, it’s me.
Him:  Oh.  What’s your good name?  (I love how they ask that question India!  Sounds cool.)
Me:  Wong.
Him: (looking at his placard sign)  But I’m looking for Dong.
Me:  That’s wrong.  I mean, I’m Wong.  And I’m not a Mister.
Him:  (laughing) oh yes, I see!  You are not a Mister.  My apologies.
Me:  (showing him my business card)  No problem.
Him:  Okay, follow me Webbie.  The car is just around the corner.
Me:  Um, my name is Debbie, not Webbie.
Him: (laughs again)  Oh yes, okay so sorry.  Ms. Dong, please follow me.

Clearly he was confused.  The rest of the week proved interesting.  He was assigned to not only be my driver, but also my “buddy” or helper throughout the week as I set up for training classes and meetings.  Still, he insisted on calling me Webbie.  I guess the name stuck.  Each morning, he shouted across the room, “Webbie, what kind of tea would you like?  Assam tea?”  I spent the first part of the week correcting him and he often chuckled and corrected himself.  But the next day, he reverted back to the beloved nickname Webbie.
He turned out to be really sweet, despite his naming disorder, and he checked on me constantly in between meetings to make sure I had enough tea or water.  Every day for lunch, he ordered me a chicken burger since “that’s what foreigners must like,” he confided with a wink.  It was as plain and hard as cardboard.  As a “guest”, he wanted me to feel special.  So I always sat in a different room for visitors to eat my lunch.  He decorated the table with nice flatware, folded napkins and a white plate where the  horrid chicken burger sat.
On the third day, I peeked into the staff kitchen and discovered the whole team sitting around a big clay pot of chicken biryani.  The wondrous smell of spices enticed me to stay.  I asked for some.  My buddy grew serious and said in a protective way, “Oh you are a guest.  This is too spicy for you.  You don’t like the chicken burger?”  I shook my head.  He scooped up some chicken biryani into a bowl and I scoffed down a few mouthfuls.  The heat rose instantly from my throat to my tongue until my lips burned.  My eyes watered as I gulped down water. Still, I persisted and finished my bowl.  My buddy laughed and bellowed, “Oh Webbie, you can eat spicy food!”  It was delicious and I helped myself to more.

I grew to really appreciate his little quirks and his heartfelt exchanges, and I stopped correcting his pronunciation of my name.   After all, he made a mean cup of assam tea.  In fact, he turned out to be my buddy every time I visited the Delhi office after that.

Years later, I received an email from an unknown address to announce his departure from the company.  When I saw the first line “Hello Webbie…”, I knew it was him.

 

7 Tips On How to Beat Jet Lag

Just arrived in Geneva - jet lagged but surprisingly alert!

Just arrived in Geneva – jet lagged yet alert!

I travel. A LOT. 20% of the time for work to all four corners of the earth as well as  int’l trips a year for vacation and visiting family. Although I love the thrill of exploring new places, jet lag is a killer. And it can be debilitating especially after traveling across the Pacific for 14 hours only to land, shower at my hotel and then head straight into the office for a meeting.  What’s even harder is overcoming the sleepiness that hits you suddenly mid-afternoon as well as battling the staring-at-the-ceiling-at-3-am syndrome.  It can be terrible.  So how do you beat it?

Over the years, I’ve developed some good tips to beat jet lag and still function well throughout the day.  My method totally works for me and maybe these tips can also help you, whether you’re traveling across the country or across several time zones.

 

1.  Take 1 or 2 Tylenol PMs before going to bed that first night you arrive.  Unbelievable how well this works!  You have to “trick” your body into thinking it’s time to sleep for a full night.  The internal body clock is confused anyway when you arrive. I find the Tylenol PMs help me to not only fall asleep but also to STAY asleep so I get at least 6 or 7 hours of sleep that first night.

2. Take a mini nap (no more than 2 hours) if you’ve arrived at your destination early in the morning.  This is probably just as important as #1.  I’ve made the mistake before of arriving at 6 am in Paris, then taking a huge long nap from 10 am – 4 pm.  Boom – I’m wide awake after that and no matter what, I’m screwed because I can’t go to sleep later that evening.  So set that alarm, give yourself 2 hours, and then go out – see the city, walk around and then come back later to sleep.  Oh and also do #1.

3.  If arriving later in the day, do your best to stay awake.  If you end up going to sleep too early like at 7 pm then you’ll definitely wake up in the middle of the night.  After an international flight, I’ll try to have a light dinner and go for a walk so I don’t fall asleep right after eating.  Then I try to stay awake until at least 10 or 11 pm.

4.  Take Tylenol PM in smaller dosages on the second and third night.  Why, you ask?  Because you have to train your body to believe it’s now night time and ready to sleep. Remember, you take the TPMs not to fall asleep, but to STAY asleep until the morning.  So by the time it’s the third night on the trip, I’m down to half a tablet and then I’m usually fine for the rest of the trip.  I follow the same routine when I come back home from traveling too.

5.  Drink plenty of water on the plane and throughout the trip.  Hydration is key!  If you’re dehydrated, then your body will have to work extra hard to stay focused and be active.  Rule of thumb for me is to drink double the amount of water I normally do when traveling.

6.  Make sure you schedule light activities on your first day.  I usually don’t plan any major team dinners my first or second night on a biz trip because I’m usually so tired by the time 6 pm rolls around.  It’s amazing – I feel great when I wake up and then come 4 pm, I hit a wall and then it feels like I just went dancing all night long.  So keep things light and give yourself the rest you need.

7.  Sleep as much as you can on the plane.  I don’t understand when people say to never sleep on a plane.  if you’re tired, take a nap.  I’m definitely one of those people who can’t sleep well anywhere so I end up reading, working or watching a ton of movies.  But if I’m tired on the plane, then I’ll sleep.  No need to put my body through any more fatigue.

Do you have other good tips to battle jet lag?  Feel free to share!