On Seeing John Keats’ Tombstone in Rome

Cemetery in Rome

Cemetery in Rome

Poor guy – he had it rough from the start: his father was killed when he was eight, his mom died of tuberculosis several years later, and he himself lived only to the age of 26 before he gasped his last breath, alone in a foreign country and in despair.

When I was in Rome recently, I visited John Keats’ tombstone in a beautiful cemetary.  I had majored in English Literature many moons ago, and I remembered how my favorite literary era was the Romantic period, particularly Keats’ sombre but heartfelt poems.  Unfortunately, his poetry career didn’t take off until AFTER he passed on, and I believe that all he wanted was for his poetry to be taken seriously.  Keats indeed got what he wanted because he’s one of the best known Romantic poets today.

John Keats' Tombstone in a Cemetery in Rome

John Keats’ Tombstone in a Cemetery in Rome

When I came back from Rome, I dusted my old English lit books and flipped to the section on John Keats, the corners of the pages worn and yellowed over the years.   His words still have an impact on me because he felt so closely to death and was weighed down with the heaviness of his unrecognized art.  Check out the first lines of one of his most famous poems On Seeing the Elgin Marbles, which still blow me away:

“My spirit is too weak – mortality

Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep

And each imagine pinnacle and steep

Of godlike hardship tells me I must die

Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.”

Rest in peace, Keats.

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!

 

When The Bus Broke Down in Tibet

Prayer flags

Prayer flags

The bus slowed to a halt.  Then it lurched forward and coughed black fumes and stopped again. I was finally in Tibet and yet, our bus had officially died only twenty miles from the airport.  It seemed like we were never going to get to Lhasa.

A few Tibetan men with lit cigarettes dangling from their chapped lips stepped off the bus.  Their jackets were worn and faded by the sun, and lines of thread dangled from the frayed hems of their pants.  They squatted by the side of the road and played cards in the dirt.  The driver pulled tools from a box under his seat and immersed himself from the waist up under the hood, banging and twisting things.

I needed to go to the bathroom and I wasn’t sure about leaving.  The bus could get fixed any minute now.

I peered out the window to find the driver’s legs still sticking out from under the hood.  His friend tossed a part of the engine up and down in the air, higher and higher while his buddies laughed.  Tools were scattered all along the front of the bus and obviously, this was going to be more than just a short stop.  It was already afternoon and night would soon be coming.

Getting off the bus was like trying to walk up a crowded escalator.  Every seat was occupied, with three people crammed into the two-seater seats.  Others, who spilled into the aisles, brought their own wooden stools while carrying bags, live animals and fruit on their lap. I stepped over them and passed torn brown suitcases held together with string. Near the driver’s seat, live chickens, bound by their feet to a shabby straw basket, squawked.

When I stepped out, the sun’s intense rays glared down on me, cooking my black hair so my head was hot to the touch.  It did not really occur to me before that being at such a high altitude meant being closer to the sun.

The dirt road stretched out as far as I could see, and as I walked, I admired how smooth and bare the landscape was.  The sky was a brilliant deep blue, the kind of purity in color that I first discovered in my kindergarten paint set before learning of other shades like baby blue and peacock navy.

There were no houses, animals or people in sight.  The bus was a tiny speck at the bottom of the road and up ahead was just a straight line.  However, when I passed a bend in the road, I discovered a small wooden shack. I made a bee-line to it, each step of the way as excruciating as the next.  My bladder was going to burst.  A small outhouse was just off to the side.  It was a tiny concrete box with no doors and two holes in the ground divided by a waist-high wooden partition.  I ran in.  Relief.

With my pants still wrapped around my ankles, I hobbled out into the daylight; I couldn’t bear the stench any longer, and my eyes were starting to water.  As I bent over to pull up my pants, I heard a gasp from behind me.  I whipped around and tried to cover myself with my hands, but it was too late.

I had just mooned my first Tibetan.

She was a short but sturdy woman in her 30s with a full balloon-like dirt-brown skirt and a cream colored shirt.  Beautiful turquoise beads speckled her thick black locks. She carried a homemade broom made out of straw in her hand and a plastic dustpan in the other.

“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed.  “I was just leaving!”

She eyed me up and down without any expression on her face.  And then  she repeatedly pointed towards her emaciated vegetables and then again at her outhouse.  Her face displayed not a hint of animosity but more curiosity with a slight tinge of fear in her eyes.  Her mouth was reduced to a tiny red dot below her nose.  Maybe she didn’t know how to take me since I was a foreigner but I looked Chinese.

I finally extended my hand out, but she didn’t shake it.  Remembering something I read in my guidebook, I clasped my hands together and bowed my head, the traditional gesture to greet a Tibetan, especially when entering a temple or someone’s home.

Then she smiled, showing her little brown stubs of teeth.  We laughed nervously, and I pulled out a bag of peanuts from the airplane for her.  She pushed it away from me, still maintaining her smile.

We stood there for several minutes grinning and nodding, until finally, I waved goodbye to her and began walking back to the bus.  Down the path, I turned around and she was still at the top of the road, waving away until she looked like a tiny grain blending into the background.

This excerpt is from my book THE SAME SKY – Chapter 4 Sparkler.  For more excerpts, click here.

 

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