Monday, September 30, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: So long, China! Kia Ora, New Zealand!

Vol. II, No. 10

Writing this blog in Guilin, China.
Well, speaking of traveling into the past in China, it seems I've run out of time! My book is being published in just three weeks, and I'm going home to New York for the launch. I have a Goodreads giveaway coming up and I've been LIVE on the air on American radio. All this is to say that I need to rush us out of China, head to my new home in New Zealand for a brief spell, and then return to Manhattan. So here goes...

In Guilin, China, my daughter and I sat in a cafe and wrote and wrote and wrote. Well, to be clear, I wrote while she grabbed at the pen. The cafe we were in was Italian, and it was raining heavily outside."Lying Eyes" was playing on the jukebox and the whole place had the feeling of somewhere set firmly and permanently in the early 1990s. I was lonesome and homesick, but as anyone who's traveled knows, the cure for homesickness is never home.

Baby crawling the Great Wall of China
So on the three of us went, peripatetically but not aimlessly. Not aimlessly at all: we had the Great Wall to see.

At the Great Wall, I was overcome with a profound sense of emotion for the depth of the wall's story. I mean, if there's any project on this planet that's bigger, and was more unlikely to succeed due to its sheer scale, I'd like to know about it. As many as a million builders died during part of its construction, and that was during just one dynasty, for just one part of the wall!

Anyway, at the Great Wall, the baby wanted to get down, and she wasn't taking no for an answer. Incredibly, we'd managed to find an empty section of it, not necessarily off the beaten path, but simply devoid of people. It was cold and rainy that day, so we had history all to ourselves. Onto the Great Wall of China we put her down. On the Great Wall of China my little girl was crawling. On this majestic endlessly snaking spine of history, she was tasting loose pebbles. I couldn't have been more proud.
Forbidden City with my girl, Beijing. 

And on we went. Back to Beijing to see the Forbidden City. And to Grandma's House, a restaurant so popular that we waited two days and three hours just to sit down. There I misunderstood a translation for meal and drink, so that while we thought we'd ordered a dozen or so plates of tapas and two drinks, we'd actually ordered a dozen or so main courses and two bottles of wine. It was embarrassing; everyone in the restaurant, and yes I mean everyone, laughed at us. And no I don't mean 'with' us. Not on this occasion!

From Beijing, we caught a taxi made of aluminum that looks just like a refrigerator on wheels. From there, we headed back "home" to Shanghai. Once again, we explored culinarily and found ourselves at a locals-only restaurant that served up some of the best food we've ever, ever eaten. By this point, we'd begun to feel like locals ourselves. But by this time, it was time to go. To New Zealand.

Defying gravity, the "refrigerator" taxi
And just like that, we were in my husband's home, my new home. On one hand, I couldn't believe I wasn't going home to New York, not yet anyway. But on the other hand, I began to feel a strange sense of communion with New Zealand—Wellington in particular. It was hard to say why; it's winter here and it's been raining and raining and raining, and when it stops raining it begins to drizzle. But what I know so far is that there is something about this place. There's a vein of creativity that pulses through Wellington the way I feel it pulsing through my home of the East Village in Manhattan. There are farm-to-table restaurants on every city block, coffee houses serving up "flat whites" made from freshly in-house-roasted beans, and posters (I'm not kidding here) suggesting that you, too, ought to follow your dream. And when I say posters, I don't mean just at the university (there are those too), but even at the gas stations! The walls are crawling with dream-followers, like James who created Earth174, and Gareth the barista who is working his way of up in national radio, or Annette who's following her passion to make exquisite chocolate at Esque Fine Chocolate.

Kia Ora, New Zealand!
Oh I could go on, and in fact I will! As I continue this blog, I'm going to return to what we used to be talking about here—about other people following unusual dreams. Like you. Here and there, I'll pepper my accounts of you, and you, and you too, with my own tales of getting to know my new country. For now though, we are LIVE from New Zealand!

- Patricia Sexton is the author of LIVE from Mongolia, the true story of a Wall Street woman chucking in her career to become anchor of the Mongolian news—available now for pre-order on Amazon. She's also the host of Sinovision's WE Talk, a talk show exploring how artists and celebrities have overcome huge obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook where she writes about dream-followers!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: Jack Zhou, the Time Traveler

Vol. II, No. 9

"Why don't you leave your baby with the villagers?" Jack Zhou asked, and I did a double-take.
Baby and I buying a crown of flowers in Yangshuo, China

"Leave her behind?" I repeated back to him, just to make sure I'd heard right. "On her own? At nine months?"

"Yes, why not?" Jack responded, doing a double-take of his own.

My husband and the baby and I had traveled from idyllic Yangshuo to Guilin, a "tiny Chinese city," in Jack's description, of "just" five million people.

To get from Yangshuo, we'd first caught a "tuk-tuk," which is a giant tricycle with a backseat and a noisy motor. It's named for the sound it makes as the engine potters slowly along the roads: "Tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk." On the way, the baby had met a brown cow she couldn't get enough of. She chattered and chattered away, as if she'd reunited with an old friend. To kill time, I bought a crown of fresh flowers from an old woman, and wore it all the way to Guilin.

The start of the climb: Longji Rice Terraces
But Guilin itself was only a stopping point. Our true destination was the past. And Jack Zhou would be the man to take us there. We'd discovered him on Trip Advisor; he's one of the highest-rated guides in the region. And it was only by luck that he'd been available at all. (As a matter of fact, while it was our good luck, it was someone else's bad luck; his other clients had had their passports stolen and thus couldn't travel.)

It's worth mentioning at this point that about half of Guilin's residents (of which Jack is one) are involved in the tourism trade. In other words, it's a crowded industry. Anyone with good business sense would know that it would be a waste of time to become 'just another tour guide,' especially if you already had a good job. 
Cliffside "bamboo rice"

Which was Jack Zhou's situation.

Back at university, Jack had studied Civil Engineering, but he hadn't been particularly interested in it. Quietly, on his own, before classes, Jack began to fervently study English. Every morning, seven days a week, from 6:00 to 8:00, Jack taught himself English. Then he spent the rest of his day at engineering classes. For three years he did this, explaining to me that, "Interest is the best teacher." Jack's interest, his passion, was communication: communication through culture, communication through travel. But, he added, "Passion surpassed even risk."

And the risk was that his parents would say no. Which they did, and for a time he ended up in that Civil Engineering career that he didn't want to be in. But one day, Jack took a leap, quit his job, and started his own tour guiding business. By this point, he'd married and had a child of his own, so the stakes were high now: he had a family to provide for.
Mrs Pan leaves me in the dust, with a much heavier pack!

And then Jack did something unusual, at least it seemed that way to me. Jack immersed himself in history. For him, doing so was just a matter of being interested. "Interest is, after all, the best teacher," he repeated once again. Knowing everything about a place, from soup to nuts, was his way of passionately communicating culture and travel.

Jack and I were in the car, driving up an endlessly winding road. My ears were popping and the atmosphere was raining mist. The higher we climbed, the cooler it got. Here and there, the road was washed out; occasionally we hit a traffic jam of chickens and roosters. At what seemed like the top, we parked the car in a lot and headed up again, this time on foot. To the Longji Rice Terraces. And as we climbed, Jack transported me from the present tense to the past.

Old Mr Chin and I talk about New York 
According to Jack, the Longji Rice Terraces were created out of necessity. Centuries ago, the Mongol Hordes were running the show in the region. As the Mongols moved in and took the choicest farmland, the local farmers were forced to move out. Farther and farther the locals moved until they had no place else to go but up, up into the hills. Of course, a hillside is not a very good place for a crop of rice to flourish, but the farmers didn't really have a choice. It was do or die, so they did, carving rice terraces into the steep hillsides. Centuries later, they're still doing what they did all those years ago, and Jack was busying himself introducing me to Longji's present-day past.

Halfway up the steady climb to the terraces, Jack stopped to buy a snack of bamboo rice. As we stood
At the top. One of Jack's passions is photography.
looking over the cliff, an old man made quick work of hollowing out a section of bamboo with a saw, and then stuffing it with rice and pork. He flopped it onto the grill and a few moments later Jack showed me how to eat it, by using a pair of chopsticks to scoop out the sticky, smoky insides. I didn't even need to ask if this was how it'd been done for many, many years.

Up and up we climbed, more and more slowly. A snake slithered across my path as a wizened old woman skipped past me. She was carrying a heavy sack of something, and she was at least a generation older than me. I stopped her; I had to know.

"How old is she?" I asked her.

Sneaking off the beaten path. Longji. 
"My name is Mrs Pan," she said. "And I am sixty-one." With that, she grinned, and heaved the pack a little higher onto her back, racing up the hillside, leaving me in the dust. I resolved to climb a little faster, but I didn't stick to my guns. The weather was cool, but the air steamed with exertion.

Finally, Jack and I reached the top. There, an old man wearing a USS naval cap called out to me, reaching for my hand. "My brother lives in New York!" he declared. "And he is a very rich man indeed," Jack translated. The old man's name was Mr Chin and he was shouting—Jack explained that he was deaf—and he had a warm smile and an infectious laugh. "Tell my brother I said hello!" Mr Chin yelled, just a few inches from my ear. I promised Mr Chin I would, if I ever met his brother.

"Would you," Jack then began, pausing as if unsure of my response, "like to go off the beaten path a little?"
Motorized tills, like this one, and cows plough the rice terraces

Did I? Did I ever!

Sneaking a glance left and right, Jack led me down a path used only by the farmers. The path took us directly to the rice paddies. Bright electric-orange and velvety violet dragonflies buzzed beside us as we picked our way carefully through the terraced farmland. We passed faucet-thin waterfalls and, eventually, a man selling bags of brittle honeycomb to the few passersby. Under the shade of the trees, it smelled of cedar. Jack and I stopped to rest, snacking on the leftover bamboo rice and sweet honeycomb, and there he told me all about rice varietals.

Jack, at rear, watches as a young villager shows off his new boots.
Admittedly, rice varietals don't much interest me. But with Jack, that was just it: he infused everything he said—from the history of a storied old place to types of rice grains—with such an omniscient passion that it wasn't difficult to find myself asking for more, even about those varietals.

But it was time to go. The sun was just beginning to set over the terraced hilltops, and we both had babies to return to. On the long drive back to Guilin, Jack fell fast asleep as I watched China roll past my window. Although I hadn't taken Jack's suggestion to leave the baby with Longji villagers, I had promised her we'd return one day when she's older. And hopefully it will be with Jack, guiding us.

(You can find Jack Zhou at Jack is the recipient of Trip Advisor's 2013 Certificate of Excellence.)

Patricia Sexton is the author of "LIVE from Mongolia," the true story of a Wall Street woman chucking in her career to become anchor of the Mongolian news—available now for pre-order on Amazon. She's also the host of Sinovision's WE Talk, a talk show exploring how artists and celebrities have overcome huge obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: Some Advice on Backpacking with a Baby

Vol. II, No. 9

Dialogue with Dad, Yangshuo China
"Are you sure you want bones with your chicken?" the waitress asked a second time. My husband and the baby and I were still in Yangshuo, China, delighting in our ability to fall in love with a place and stay a few nights longer than we'd originally planned. For the first time in years, we weren't on anybody's schedule but our own.

"Of course I'm sure we want bones," I responded once again to the waitress, curious why she was challenging our palates. After all, we'd been told the "Braised Farmer Chicken" dish was best experienced in the local Yangshuo style, which was with bones.

Floating down the Yulong; singing Evita

While we waited for our dinner to arrive, my husband and I went over the week's events. We'd timed our ascent up Moon Hill to race each other up the peak. Because the baby had had to stay at home in the hotel, we'd taken turns doing this on different days. Although I lost by a long shot (my hour-and-a-half to his forty-five minutes), I'd won in other ways, just for lingering.

"Original paintings for sale" Yangshuo China

After the climb and descent, my guide Xiao Yu and I slowly cycled past roadside grave sites, where she pointed out the fluttering squares of red paper, left over from April's tomb-sweeping festival. Past a fruit field and farmers in straw hats tending to their rice crops, she introduced me to the tiny village of "Pig Hat." Of course, I'd done a double-take when she translated the village's name. 'Really?' I'd asked. 'Pig Hat?' And, yes, really the name of the village was just that.

In Pig Hat, toes of garlic hung from the ceilings of houses made from bricks of reddish-brown clay. There were twenty houses in the town, and more chickens than people. Frogs ribbitted from every nook and cranny and an old woman sat on a yellowed piece of newspaper, manning two grazing cows. This scene of someone else's home life couldn't have been more different than New York, Ohio, or anywhere else we'd lived.

Roadside tombs, Yangshuo China
On our way back from our respective adventures, we rafted downstream on the Yulong River, separately and this time without the baby. My husband drifted silently, occasionally jumping into the river (even swimming alongside a water snake). I avoided the snakes and instead drifted in song—my river guide began to hum, then sing quietly, finally belting out Chinese opera melodiously and emotionally. After a time, he asked me to respond in kind. So I did, singing what I could remember of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Evita to my audience of one. Not far off, a woman stitched needlepoint—in the middle of river rapids on a bright blue barge made of giant gasoline tanks. On the riverbanks, a couple dressed entirely in white got married.

The Town of "Pig Hat," Yangshuo China
Karst Art Gallery, Yangshuo China

And then with the baby in tow, the three of us had gone cycling. It was her first time, and she loved it, initially at least. We biked through villages, past an adobe-brick art gallery and a painter recreating the scene of the Yulong before him. We passed milkshake shops, cows, and honeypots sold out of an old army tent. We rode into an old stone village, inhabited by, at least it seemed anyway, one very old smiling man and his equally old and gregarious wife. 

All this the baby loved, until she grew tired, and then she cried until we reached home, shouting so loudly that our Chinese neighbors raised their eyebrows and smiled in sympathy. 

My husband and I remarked on all this, trying to decide which path to take next. By this point, we'd been in Yangshuo for about a week, and it was getting to be that time, that time to figure out what was next. Should we head west, to hike? Or should we go down south, to the beaches?

We'd do neither; the truth was we couldn't. Although we'd planned to "backpack" with our nine-month-old, we'd made the incredibly un-sound decision to bring suitcases. As in, heavy luggage that is rather unwieldy when paired with a writhing infant. So, I'll cue in my travel advice, and herein you'll get two-for-one:

1) Do not, under any circumstances, travel heavy when you wanted to travel light. Buy a big backpack, not a big suitcase. Wear it. Put your baby on your front, in a Baby Bjorn, and your pack on your back. You and your spine can send me postcards from the ends of the earth, thanking me for saving you both.

2) Download the app "Baby Monitor" and spend just a moment telling yourself what a bad parent you are, then turn on the app, and go downstairs to dinner while your baby sleeps quietly in your hotel room upstairs (as long as the room is close; the app needs proximity). You'll need an iPhone and an iPad for this arrangement, which sorrrrrrrta takes the fun out of "backpacking" but things change when you have a baby with you, and you might as well roll with just that.

Painter, Yangshuo China

Anyway, back to the chicken dinner!

My husband checked the "Baby Monitor" app to see that our little girl was sleeping soundly. Just as he did so, our chicken dish arrived. Right away, we understood why our waitress had resisted giving us the local version of the dish.

"It looks like," my husband paused, gathering his thoughts, "like the cook put an entire chicken into a meat grinder." Indeed, it did. In the dish were a pair of claws, a few stray feathers, and as I poked through the food with my chopsticks, I found a beak. It took some work to separate the bones from the meat, but once we did we were positively delivered, and then some. The sauce was fresh, rich, and zesty, and the chicken was tender and local.

As we ate, we both agreed: we'd move on. To Guilin. And, like many little decisions, this little decision would have a big impact: In Guilin, we'd get a chance to meet a local man who left behind his sure-thing career in order to pursue a dream that would regularly take him many centuries into the past.

Stay tuned for next week's edition!

- 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—available now on She's also host of Sinovision's WE Talk, a talk show exploring how celebs and artists have overcome big obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Old man, old woman. Yangshuo, China

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: Fortune-Telling Monks & The Turtle

Vol. II, No. 8

One of the rooms in Guanxi's largest Buddhist temple
"Come closer," the man said to me. He was young, thirty or so, and he was wearing a headset while he stroked a giant turtle. Xiao Yu, my guide, and I were at the largest Buddhist temple in Guanxi province in China. Up a narrow stone corridor, inside the temple's great reception hall, sat monks who were waiting for you to show up. The monks were dressed in robes of varying shades of brown and some were balding; they could have been Franciscan. Seated in grand chairs around the perimeter of the hall's polished wooden floors, they waited for you—to tell your fortune. And they didn't bother with the ever-so-pedestrian fortunes of this lifetime; no, they told fortunes for your next lifetime, after you die and reincarnate.

Of course, I very much wanted to participate, but I speak way too little Mandarin to even get a glimpse into my future's future. And besides, I got the sense my guide Xiao Yu was very reluctant to approach the monks. Besides, we had that turtle to pet.
The turtle minder instructs me to stroke the turtle's head

"Even closer," the man with the turtle now said, and I obeyed. Out of the corner of the turtle's eye, he watched me approach, warily I might add. The man began to speak loudly into his miked headset,  rattling off a lot of words in an auctioneer's monotone that I couldn't begin to understand.

"For good fortune and long life," the man finally said, urging me to stroke the turtle's head and back, and again I obliged. For my little girl and my husband and myself, I bought from the man three bracelets made of fat green wooden beads and intricately carved with fat happy Buddhas.

Buying engraved beads from the turtle man
Xiao Yu and I left the temple and made for Moon Hill, the karst limestone peak I'd been looking forward to climbing. While Xiao Yu waited for me at the base, I began my ascent. For the first time in a very long time, I was alone. Alone in a foreign country, a thrilling feeling. It was noisy. Nature-noisy. Picking and scrambling through the scree, I made my way ever higher, and finally came to a landing. A bevy of tourists was there, sweating profusely and commenting on the climb. "Not long to go!" one of them shouted after me, as I made my way up. He was right; the distance wasn't far, but the height sure made it feel as if it were.

Climbing Moon Hill
And then, finally, the peak. It was sunny and hot and muggy, and rivulets of perspiration ran from every pore. I took a moment to empty the contents of both my water bottles into my mouth, and then proceeded to take photos. Not long after, I had two 朋友, two "friends," and we were taking turns snapping photos for each other. One thing led to another, as it always does on an adventure, and the three of us decided to hike up even higher, past a boarded sign warning you to go no farther, up a rocky outcrop, to the very tippity-top of Moon Hill. It wasn't exactly dangerous, but you sure didn't want to slip.

"Can you make it?" one of my two new friends said. He was Chinese, from a nearby province, and here with his wife, on a vacation. "You are too big for this trail I think," he said with honesty, but not unkindness.

"I can make it," I said.

Reaching the peak's peak

"But do you have insurance?" he asked, and this time I regarded him quizzically. It's not the kind of thing you want to hear as a foreign woman hiking in an isolated place. Turns out, the man was an insurance salesman, not a first-degree murderer. And up we climbed. Just when we all began to think we'd made a mistake in taking the path less traveled, we reached the peak of the peaks.

Warning at the base to not do what we'd done

Spread out below us was Yangshuo. In fact, spread out below us was China. At our feet, and standing at erect attention, stood thousands of bushy karst limestone skyscraper-mountains. At their bases, hundreds of Monopoly-sized houses and teeny-tiny villages and towns. But there was no time for lingering. Overhead, the sun blazed, it was getting late, and we'd have to make quick work of descending. At the bottom, the insurance salesman and his wife and I bid each other goodbye, and then I bid Xiao Yu a hello. She'd been waiting a long time for me, and now we'd head home.

Next up: the baby makes friends with a cow, my husband orders an interesting dish of chicken beak, and I'll give you the best travel tip for adventuring with a baby that you'll ever get. 

- 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—available now for pre-order on Amazon. She's also the host of Sinovision's WE Talk, a talk show exploring how celebs and artists have overcome big obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Monday, September 02, 2013

On Wall Street, on Whale Sperm, and on Selling out

In costume (why?) at work at Credit Suisse Singapore
Quickie Special Edition

Recently, I spoke with one of my old banking colleagues. He's been in the business for decades now, and he happens to genuinely like what he does for a living. He also follows a dream—on the side, after work—and that's good enough for him. It's also good enough for the lucky within his circle who are fortunate to be able to consume what he creates. I'd tell you more about that, except that this old colleague of mine is very private, doesn't like to be written about, and would frown on me telling you who he is, or what it is that he does to be creative.

So, instead, let me tell you why he told me off.

In Japan, dressing to be a geisha

It had been a year since he and I had spoken last. After I left banking, we tried to catch up every so often, but eventually obligations got in the way. More and more time would pass before our next phone call, but still he said, he'd kept in touch my goings-on through my blog here. Which brings me to my point.

"I told my wife I didn't want to speak to you ever again," he said last week, and it took my breath away. "I read your blog post about Wall Street, and I was disappointed," he said into the quiet, with some finality.

The finished product. 

I knew just which post he was talking about. Two years ago, I visited the Occupy Wall Street movement in Manhattan, and I'd written about it. I hadn't just written about the movement, but about the bankers I knew who were giving up on their dreams in order to make more money. What my old friend was saying was that I'm a sell-out. And so I'm here to tell you today that maybe he's right; maybe a little bit of me did sell out when I wrote that post.

Well, the truth is that I'd never be here, writing to you, if I hadn't been on the adventure that was my decade on Wall Street. Wall Street offered me the good life, and I took it, even when I wasn't sure I should be taking it. I lived in extraordinary places like Tokyo and Singapore that changed every bit of who I am. I traveled to places like Tibet and North Korea that made me who I'd become. And I indulged in preposterously decadent things like toilets that wash and dry your bottom after you poo, or bowls of fresh whale sperm (correction: bowl, definitely not more than one), or paying someone to dress me like a geisha. No, I wouldn't have had all these experiences if it hadn't been for Wall Street. And to Wall Street I am genuinely grateful. I mean, if it hadn't been for banking, I probably couldn't have afforded to leave banking.

But I'm also here to stand my ground on one critical point—which is that I can't understand why you wouldn't go ahead and do what you love. Whether it's before work, after work, or quitting work altogether to do so, why don't we pursue a slice of our dreams? As another former banking colleague recently put it, "Life ain't a dress rehearsal." So here's to my dream-following banker friend, and to all the others out there working at a dream, or even dreaming at work. And here's to Wall Street, for giving me the money to afford becoming the ugliest geisha that ever was.

(Dedicated to you-know-who.)

- 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 talk show exploring how celebs and artists have overcome big obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook. Her book is now available for pre-order from

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: Midnight Adventure in China

Vol. II, No. 7

In the middle of the night, the baby woke up and emphatically pointed to the door. If she'd done this silently, I probably wouldn't be telling you about it, but she did it with noisy gusto. And so for a walk we all went, into the quiet and the stillness and the misty midnight darkness of Yangshuo, China.
After our midnight adventure into Yangshuo

Beneath the towering karst that make up Yangshuo's unusual landscape, we picked our way from the hotel onto the main road, passing by hillsides dotted with cobblestone graves, and passing through a tiny village of four houses and an empty riverside stall advertising honey for sale. The silence was audible, the darkness nearly complete. The peaks all around us—there are thousands of them—make you feel as if you're walking in a bustling metropolis where all the buildings have been covered in bush.

Breakfast with my girl
At one of these skinny green skyscraper peaks, we hung a left and made our way toward the Yulong River, where we'd taken the baby white-water rafting the day before. Mercifully, she didn't seem to remember any of it, although I certainly did. The Yulong is a tributary of the Li River and is described by local travel leaflets as a "bright pearl in the beautiful land of China, a jade ribbon among...stunning landscape...that winds through rice fields, farmhouses, fishing ponds, and thousands of peaks."

Looking up at one of these peaks, I pointed and said to the baby, "冒险," or "adventure," a word I've been trying to teach her since the day she was born. Instead, she pointed to the light rapids floating downstream and said, "Dukkah,"which maybe meant duck, although there wasn't one in sight. Dawn was now just beginning to crest over the horizon, peeking through the emerald monoliths. We made our way back to the hotel, where the staff was preparing a breakfast of freshly roasted coffee, homemade bread, and scrambled eggs.

Cycling thru the town of Yangshuo, China
Three cups later, and I'd gotten my second wind. It was time—for some adventure. And it was at this point that my husband and I decided to do the sensible thing: take turns parting company for the day. We'd learned our lesson trying to white-water raft with a nine-month-old baby, and we weren't keen to repeat the mistake. Now one of us would stay with the baby, while the other sought out 冒险. It was my turn, and I was giddy with anticipation.

Back outside our hotel, with a daypack slung over my shoulder, I met Xiao Yu, or 'Daybreak Jade,' who would be my guide for the day. Together, she and I headed into town on rented bicycles, pedaling past strawberry, watermelon, and musk melon fields. Soon we really were in a bustling metropolis: flatbed trucks rumbled past, choking out black puffs of diesel; vans chock-full of commuting passengers honked at nothing in particular; and hawkers monotonously and shrilly hawked everything from noodles to tchotchke. We were headed for Moon Hill, one of those famous karst limestone peaks. And I would climb it. But first, I needed to rub a turtle's head.

Stay tuned...

- 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 new. She's also the host of Sinovision's WE Talk, a talk show exploring how celebrities and artists have overcome big obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook. Her book is available now for pre-order on Click here to pre-order.