Thursday, July 25, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: The In-Between

Vol. II, No. 2

So, where were we? Ah, yes: I'd fallen in love with someone who'd asked me to leave Manhattan for the country that's about as far away from Manhattan as you can get!

Holding court on an overnight flight to China.
In fact, our favorite New Yorker comedian Lewis Black had this to say about New Zealand: "Terrorism doesn't exist in New Zealand. Terrorists get on the plane, shout 'Allahu Akbar,' shout it again a few more times, and then realize they still have 22 hours left on the flight. Then they order the chicken." Here's a more in-depth clip of Black's about New Zealand, which my husband says is a real Kiwi favorite.

Anyway, of this man who'd one day be my husband, I had just one question, the same question I'd asked everyone I'd ever dated:

"If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?"

Usually I'd get a pretty tepid answer: Florida, Hawaii, maybe Mexico. All beautiful places, but not my travel-cup-of-tea. At that point, I'd just returned from Mongolia, and it was places like Mongolia that I wanted to return to.

"China," he said without a moment's hesitation. "I want to backpack in China."

I was sold. Exactly five years later, we set out.

For reasons that neither my husband nor I can now recall, I flew alone with our baby daughter to Shanghai. She and I carried 62lbs of luggage, one stroller, a diaper bag, and a carry-on suitcase. Frankly speaking, this part of the journey was very forgettable, and I was looking forward to doing just that once we arrived. Jade, on the other hand, was enjoying the attention of the 100-some people in Economy class, who were facing her as she stood in her bassinet and screeched.

But arrive we finally did, to a city of 24 million people, the biggest in the world. After meeting Jesse in the airport, we made our way into the heart of the "Paris of the East."

As far as commerce is concerned, Shanghai couldn't be better located. Right on the coast, it's one of the busiest ports in the world - and it has been for centuries. Originally settled sometime around the fall of Rome, Shanghai became a full-fledged municipality after Genghis Khan's grandson invaded China. But it wasn't until the Opium Wars in the 19th century that Shanghai became a sort of household-name destination for the European elite. To make a long story short, the Opium Wars were about European access to China. Because of its location and busy port, Shanghai was of particular interest to the Europeans, in particular the British. There was a war, followed by a crappy treaty that the Chinese signed under duress, followed by another war. As part of the terms of the treaty, China had begrudgingly agreed to lease out land to foreign governments. And it was because of this, finally I'm getting to my point!, that the French Concession was established.

And it was to the French Concession that we were headed!

Eating chicken feet near Changle Rd in Shanghai
To be honest, I remember precisely none of the journey into Shanghai. An 18-hour flight with a chatty 9-month-old will do that to you. But what I do recall is our first meal. Before we'd even opened the menu in the small restaurant off the main road in the French Concession, my husband and I made a solemn commitment to each other to order one adventurous item, for every meal we'd eat in China.

And then we opened the menu. Promptly, we passed on the "Fried Black Jew's Ear" in favor of a pair of chicken feet. After all, the sauce on the chicken feet promised a zesty sweet and sour, and that goes better with the cold lager we'd ordered.

So there we were, our first afternoon in China, following a dream both of us had had - to backpack in the Middle Kingdom. Of course, when we'd first met and talked about this dream adventure, neither of us had ever imagined we'd have had a baby by then, and that she'd be tagging along.

More to come from our adventure into the Middle Kingdom, where we will discover a remedy for jet-lag, we'll encounter the beneficiaries of 13th-century Yuan dynasty politics, and we'll meet a Uighur noodle expert!

-Patricia Sexton is the author of "LIVE from Mongolia!", the true story of a woman chucking in her Wall Street career to become anchor of the Mongolian news. She's also the host of Sinovision's WE Talk, a cross-cultural talk show exploring how celebs and artists have overcome big obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow Patricia on Twitter and on Facebook.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Grace Brown: From Law to Cake

Vol. I, No. 9

Well, this really takes the cake. And for this post, I'm going to need to interrupt the story about leaving New York to follow my husband's dream to move to New Zealand. There's a lot to tell about the in between - in particular, an adventure into China with our baby girl! But for now...


Bernie's on the Bay, Wellington
When we first arrived in New Zealand, I was intrigued by the number of signs around Wellington, the country's capital, that advertised dreams. Dreams, dream-following, passion, adventure, and so on. A sign posted outside Bernie's on the Bay cafe stated, "Bernie's: FREE admission to those who dream." Or an ad for Victoria University: "Know what you stand for. Know where your passions lie. Know your next move." My favorite was an entirely improbable ad for getting a mortgage, of all things: "Are you still living someone else's dream?" The last time I cross-referenced following a dream and mortgage debt was...never. Having written and covered stories of dream-following for all these years, a part of me felt a little bit right-at-home when I saw these signs and sentiments. 

But back to cake! 

So one Sunday morning, just after we'd arrived in New Zealand, I opened The Dominion Post, the local paper here, to find a front-page feature story on none other than someone following a dream...

Grace Brown was an attorney working at a Wellington law firm. When she got engaged, she and her fiance moved moved to London for a time. It was then that she decided to pursue her dream to bake. She'd been baking with her grandmother since she was a kid, and it was her grandmother who taught her how to say "cake" when she was just a tot. As Grace told The Dominion Post, "Being a lawyer was satisfying, but it never really lit my fire. I was much more excited by the cakes and cupcakes I made for my colleagues' birthdays..."

Well, practice had made perfect and Grace ended up landing a job at one of Britain's most famous bakeries, turning out bespoke cupcakes for the likes of Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing. She worked at Crumbs & Doilies for a year, and then moved back to Wellington. Recently, she opened up her own bakery, "Sweet Bakery & Cakery."When Grace and I met earlier this week, she had just taken another leap: she'd signed a lease for her very own baking space. And in order to afford it, she had to move back in with her parents.

So what gave Grace the courage to pursue her dream? Well, as she told me this morning, Grace and her fiance "strongly believe happiness is more important than money, and I never would have found that being a lawyer." She added that she "just doesn't really see another option - it's what I'm meant to be doing, and I have to make it happen."

Grace Brown's dream-following adventurous "suit-cake"
Well, obviously, I had to give Grace a tall order. I wanted a cake for my little girl's first birthday. I told Grace it had to represent following dreams, adventure, and all the places the baby has traveled or will soon travel. Grace asked me to give her a day to think, and called me promptly a day later. "How about a suitcase?" she said. "With luggage stickers and a baggage tag?"

I was speechless, and here's why (pictured right). I mean, check out the stitching! And the "suit-cake's" edges that look straight out of Louis Vuitton! And the heart-shaped Mongolian flag! And the luggage tag! And the chocolate luggage handle (which my little girl promptly ripped off and stuffed, whole, into her mouth).

If you're in New Zealand and you're in the market for a cake that will knock your socks off, or you just want to follow the progress of someone following her dream, you can contact Grace via or follow her on Facebook

-Patricia Sexton is the author of "LIVE from Mongolia!", the true story of a woman chucking in her Wall Street career to follow her dream to become anchor of the Mongolian news. Her book will be published by Beaufort Books in October, 2013. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: The Beginning

Vol. II, No. 1

"My dream," he said, "is to one day go back home to New Zealand."

I shuddered.

Three months earlier, I'd met him. For the first time in my life, I'd experienced love at first sight. And despite all the odds* stacked against our long-distance, overseas relationship, we were becoming we. So when he moved to New York from London so that we could be together, he didn't even bother to finish unpacking before he told me we needed to talk. Hand in hand, and mostly in uncomfortable silence, we walked in the summer afternoon to that old triangle-shaped Italian restaurant in the West Village of Manhattan. There, gravely, he told me what he had to tell me, and then he asked cautiously:

"So what do you think? One day? Could you leave New York?"

At first, I didn't say anything. Maybe it shouldn't have been such a big deal to hear that, but for me it was. And I knew he could tell it was going to be a big deal. I'd already told him that I was living my dream, that ever since I'd been a kid in Cincinnati, I'd wanted nothing more than to live in New York City. As a kid, I'd watch the financial news, delivered by Tom Brokaw on the 6:30 broadcast, and swear one day I'd work on the "Doe Jones stock market."And, sorta anyway, I did.

Arriving Auckland airport, June 2013
"But I love New York," I'd said to him at the restaurant, adding that I'd think about it. I'd never been to New Zealand, but that wasn't the point. The point was that I was living my dream, and I'd made a lot of sacrifices to do so.

So, what do you do when two dreams seem mutually exclusive? Whose do you choose? How do you even know if they're mutually exclusive? Can a dream, a path, change? Should it?

And there's the rub: "Should it? Should you change your dream?" That was a question I spent five years asking, and have never once come any closer to answering. I mean, if you're really meant for something, isn't it just a little bit wrong to get intoxicated on the elixir of love? Aren't you diverging your own path, where perhaps you were not meant to? Aren't you giving up...on yourself?

For the next five years since we met in 2008, I pondered these and all the other questions. Then, one day a few months ago, we did move - he and I and our little baby girl - from New York to New Zealand. It wasn't that I'd answered all those questions, quite the opposite. It was that it was time for both of us to take a leap of faith - he to finally follow his dream, I to experience the odyssey of changing my own path.

There will be more to come as I continue to write about this subject - from New Zealand.

*We met at The Sevens in Hong Kong. If you've ever been to The Sevens, you know the odds are about a kajillion to one that you'll ever hear from, let alone recognize, the person you took a liking to in the South Stand.

-Patricia Sexton is the author of "LIVE from Mongolia!", the true story of a woman chucking in her Wall Street career to follow her dream to become anchor of the Mongolian news. Her book will be published by Beaufort Books in October, 2013. Follow her on Twitter at "LIVE from Mongolia!"and on Facebook at