Monday, April 28, 2014

Coming Home to America

WELLINGTON — For the past two days, my little girl and I have been on a steady diet of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison. Driving along in the wet and wind in Wellington, we crank up the volume (at her insistence); she claps her hands and dances in her car seat, and I gulp down a lump in my throat.

Found on the back of a checkbook?!
It's been nearly a year since the three of us left New York to move to New Zealand to follow my husband's dream to return to his home. In that time, I've discovered that hot cross buns really do exist; I'd always thought they were just part of a nursery rhyme.  I've become accustomed to drinking some of the world's best coffee (see CNN's report on Wellington's world-class coffee culture). And I drive through the green splendor of a national park every time I venture into town. This is some of the stuff we came here for: the green, the proximity to adventure, the little surprises of things like hot cross buns.

And yet, as summer approaches in America, I find myself growing more and more wistful for my home, for summer as I know it. Those muggy nights. Catching fireflies at dusk (or, as we called them in Cincinnati, "lightning bugs"). Eating cherry-flavored popsicles. Knowing each and every day that it'll be hot, real hot. Looking forward to the 4th of July, that holiday when you put to bed your uncertainty about the direction of the country, and raise a glass of cold beer in one hand and a grilled hot dog in the other, and toast the nature of pursuit and determination that isn't endemic to America, but is nonetheless deeply personal to most everyone who has known America as home.

Hot cross buns really do exist!
Just as all this nostalgia reached a fever pitch, a funny thing happened. I got word from Beaufort Books, my New York publisher that something really good was about to happen with the book. And when something good happens with your book, you can justify a trip home. In fact, you can even think about a road trip. With a two-year-old. And Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison.

So, American Summer, I'm coming home to see you. I'm coming home to eat my dad's burned hamburgers, and my mom's Cool Whip strawberry shortcake. I'm coming for "lightning bugs," for that summery damp smell of air-conditioning, and for days so hot that nights stay that way. And, of course, I'm coming home with my book, to talk about what can happen when you follow a dream. And perhaps this time I'll talk about what it's like to follow someone else's dream, too.

Amazon has chosen "LIVE from Mongolia" as part of its Big Deal. For the next two weeks, the book costs $2. LIVE from Mongolia is one woman's true story of what happened when she quit her Wall Street job to pursue her dream into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. It's available on Amazon Kindle, in hardcopy, on Barnes and Noble, and in bookstores. It's currently #1 in the category of Mongolia, #3 in Journalism & Nonfiction, and #3 in Specialty Travel. Enjoy! And write me if you too have pursued your wildest dream; I'd love to hear from you! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

LIVE from…Mongolia!

KHENTII MOUNTAIN RANGE — For eight centuries, the secret has been kept. At first, if you were unlucky enough to know the truth, you would have been killed. Later, if you were seeking the truth, you wouldn't have found it. But today, someone new is on the scene, and he's using a new kind of technology to uncover…the lost tomb of Genghis Khan.

Now, as many of you know, I have a thing for Genghis Khan. For me, his story of achieving a 'dream' (although I doubt he'd have put it that way) is one of the most fascinating and unlikely in all of history. Genghis Khan grew up in poverty so desperate that he made meals of rodents, and ultimately killed a half-brother during a dispute over lunch. From that backdrop, he would rule no less than a third of the world. He'd conquer more land and in less time than the Romans. His empire would expand from Korea in the east to Russia in the north, the Middle East in the south, and Europe in the west. He was one of the most successful world leaders, ever.

But we don't know where Genghis Khan was buried.

Albert Yu-Min Lin means to change all that. He's an explorer, an adventurer, and an archaeologist searching for the tomb of Genghis Khan. He isn't the first one to have tried, and he still may yet fail. But this is his dream, said best in his own words:

"Three years ago while sleeping on a friend's couch I had a dream that took complete hold of me. I set out to find a legendary tomb in a forbidden place. And yet, what I was looking for may have been in plain sight all along. It's been said that if you're searching for Genghis Khan, just look into the eyes of any nomad and you'll find him there." -from The Missing Tomb of Genghis Khan

Click below to watch a clip of Dr Albert Yu-Min Lin's incredible adventure...

LIVE from MONGOLIA is the true story of what happened when one woman followed her wildest dream out of a corporate career and into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. The book is available on Amazon (hardcover and Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores. Published October, 2013 by Beaufort Books, NYC. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Word about My Dad…and Palestrina

CINCINNATI—Yesterday, as I was driving to a meeting, the local classical station introduced "Palestrina." For nearly forty years, I've thought "Palestrina" was a thing, not a person. When my brothers and I were kids, Dad used to threaten us with Palestrina. If we were badly behaved, particularly on Sunday mornings, he'd turn on the record player, and crank up Palestrina. In fact, even if we were well-behaved, he'd find an excuse to play Palestrina at full-volume. To us, Palestrina was a punishment of maudlin church music.

Turns out, as I found out last night, "Palestrina" is Giovannia Pierlugi da Palestrina, a composer, one of the most famous composers of sacred music. Still, though, I'm not exactly sure why my Dad is so taken with his music. It's just a little bit…funereal.

Anyway, in my excitement at having discovered, after all these decades, a little bit about Palestrina, I emailed my Dad. Now, a word about my Dad and email: he does not use it. He calls email "Gmail" because that's the platform he uses, and he virtually never responds. So, it was with some surprise that I received a response from him just a few hours after I'd mailed. Which said:

Trish, No, not 1690. Palestrina did his composing around 1500. And
why would anyone want to play classical that old. The further you get
from our time, the stranger the music sounds in general. If you wish
to experiment try Guillaume de Machaut from around 1200, really weird.

So, aside from setting me straight about the timing of Palestrina composing (which he would've remembered; he doesn't know about Wikipedia), Dad revealed to me that he never really thought much of Palestrina. I admit to being a tad dismayed by this, having spent the better part of my childhood being subjected to dusty old church tunes from the Renaissance period.

But what really struck me, and why I'm writing at all about this on a blog series about people who follow their wildest dreams, is that my Dad and his dreams never cease to impress me. In the early 1970s, he left everything behind (including Christmas dinner; he left on Christmas day!) to head to Central America. There, he built houses and hitchhiked. He only came back because he'd fallen in love before he'd actually left, and so he took a teaching job to support the family he and my Mom would create.

Back in Ohio, he taught. He taught at a school that would end up doing him very wrong (there's considerably more detail in the book). And so when he was fired, it seemed like his dreams were finished. And for a little while, they were. But, he and my Mom had four kids to take care of and they had to get on with life. Dad became a house painter, and spent a lot of time listening to, we both know where I'm headed, Palestrina.

So, here's to a man I spend everyday looking up to. To an adventurer who took risks. To a teacher who demanded the best of his students. To a painter who prides himself on precision. To a father who taught four little kids, held hostage by the whimpering tones of Palestrina, that dreams are possible, even if they don't always go your way right away.

"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of what happened when one woman followed her wildest dream out of a corporate job and into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. The book is available on Amazon (hardcover and Kindle), on Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores. Published October, 2013 by Beaufort Books, NYC. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

LIVE from…A floating village in Thailand!

KOH PANYEE, THAILAND — If this short film about following an impossible dream doesn't make you cry, then you need to get your tear ducts checked out.

This is the true story of a group of young boys in Thailand who dreamed of, quite simply, playing soccer. Trouble is, they come from a floating village. The floating village doesn't have any land. Not a single square inch of it. So, what did they do to achieve their dream? And…what happened when they did? (Click below to watch.)

And here's what they had to say about overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal, and (spoiler alert) becoming regional soccer champs for many years in a row:

"Whatever challenges you face in life, if you think you can make a difference, we say you can."

"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of what happened when one woman followed her wildest dream out of a corporate career and into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. The book is available on Amazon (hardcopy, Kindle), on Barnes & Noble, and in some int'l bookstores. Published October 2013 by Beaufort Books, NYC. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stephen Colbert on Following a Dream

NEW YORK — "Simply being a guest on David Letterman's show has been a highlight of my career,"  Stephen Colbert said. "I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps…"

I don't know about you, but I think there's something pretty special about Stephen Colbert's story of how he got to where he is.
Stephen Colbert as a kid (Imgarcade)

Colbert is a small-town kid from a big Irish Catholic family who experienced tragedy at a young age when his Dad and two of his brothers were killed in a plane crash. He was a mediocre student who barely considered college. He'd dreamed of being, of all things when you consider who he is now, a marine biologist, but couldn't due to damage to his ear drums. To make ends meet when he didn't have any money, he sold souvenirs.

I'd love to personally ask Colbert what urged him to carry on, how he managed to continue to believe in himself when nothing seemed to be going his way. I'd love to know who said to him, "You can do it." If any of you readers happen to know Colbert, and if he isn't too busy doing what he said he'd be doing to prepare to take over from Letterman, I'd sure like to talk to him. I have a few questions about dream-following to ask...

"I'm thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth," said Colbert in CBS's full press release.

'LIVE from Mongolia' is the true story of what can happen when you pursue a lifelong dream. It's been the Mongolia bestseller on Amazon (available in hardcopy and on Kindle), and it's available on Barnes & Noble, and in some int'l bookstores. Published by Beaufort Books in 2013. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

LIVE from…The Great Wall of China!

THE GREAT WALL—He is one of the few people in history crazy enough to do it. He's also the youngest westerner, the first New Zealander, and very likely the only trained lawyer. In 2000, Nathan Hoturoa Gray set out to walk the entire length of the Great Wall of China. He was joined by a Buddhist monk, an Argentinean photojournalist, a Mormon golfer, an Italian recording artist—and for a time, a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. In order to achieve this incredible dream, he had to skirt police surveillance, brave snakes, and even face starvation. Once, he had to sleep in a plastic bag to protect himself from a blizzard. Oh and, he had to walk four thousand kilometers.

Nathan Hoturoa Gray is a 39-year-old adventure journalist. He's a half-Maori, half-English New
Nathan Gray (Courtesy: Nathan Gray)
Zealander living in Wellington. Nathan is described as having "youthful energy," and that he does. He talks quickly and excitedly about the adventures he's been on. And those have been many. Nathan has traveled to more than seventy countries, thirty-six American states, and he's hitchhiked from Norway to the Middle East, with a stint in between in western Europe and at the pyramids.

"You do it with the power of your thumb!" Nathan says about hitchhiking, or about his ability to achieve unusual feats of adventure, or maybe both.

It was a 1993 trip to South Africa that would change his life.

In 1993, when Nathan was eighteen, he was chosen to study abroad in South Africa. His selection for the exchange program was significant. Ever since the 1981 Springbok rugby tour, one of the most contentious events in New Zealand history, New Zealand exchange students had not been permitted to study in South Africa. Nathan would be the first Kiwi to study in the country since 1981, and the first Maori—ever. At the time, South Africa was in tumult. Three years prior, Nelson Mandela had been freed. There were riots, demonstrations, and racism. For a "fresh-faced and naive Kiwi," as Nathan described himself, it would have been a tremendous risk, especially for someone of color, as Nathan is.

"I experienced living history and learned self-reliance," he said about his year there. Enrolled in a staunch Afrikaans school, he made sure to learn the language. And then he did something unusual: he taught his classmates the Maori haka dance, which would be a turning point for him, and for them. While it helped his classmates overcome prejudices, it helped Nathan overcome his own shame.

"I'd been ashamed of my Maori side," he admitted candidly, noting that although he is half-Maori, his physical appearance is more English. "My time in South Africa helped me to appreciate that side [of my heritage]. I experienced cultural awareness, and I was able to truly see the country for the first time."

After he completed his year there, Nathan went on to study in America. He got a law degree, and took a couple of internships in Alaska and Saipan, in the Western Pacific. His internships, one for local government and one as a summer clerk at a law firm, were supposed to help his budding law career. Instead, they drew one conclusion for him:

"I didn't want to get stuck in an office. I was twenty-four, and I knew that quite clearly."

Nathan on the Great Wall trek (Courtesy: Nathan Gray)
Nathan figured he had five years to travel before he had to get serious about life and work. He also figured he could get by on five dollars a day for the next two years. He'd saved $10,000 from his two internships, and he committed to using that money to fulfill this new dream of his to get on the road.

"For me, the next five years was all about seeing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible," Nathan said.

Nathan started in America, driving through thirty-six states, flew to Europe, and ultimately ended up in Egypt. And it was in Egypt, at the pyramids, that he encountered another profound moment, one which would spark his curiosity for the ancient. At Cheops, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza and one of the oldest and largest pyramids, Nathan found himself completely alone. It was dark, the other tourists were gone, and he began to experience  an "out-of-this-world intensity" that had an important impact on him. As it turns out, Cheops is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and this was not lost on Nathan. He left inspired, and more curious than ever.

All the while, Nathan was writing. It was the late 1990s, email had just become mainstream, and Nathan had begun to discover an audience.

"One thing led to another," Nathan explained. Did it ever.

Nathan trekking in winter (Courtesy: Nathan Gray)
Nathan's travel emails made it into the inboxes of magazine editors, and soon he was getting published in Tu Mai magazine, P3 Update, and National Geographic. Better still, his twin brother Tanemahuta Gray, a dancer and choreographer, had been forwarding Nathan's messages to a certain Argentinean photojournalist. That photojournalist would offer Nathan the chance of a lifetime: he invited Nathan to join him to walk The Great Wall of China.

Nathan Hoturoa Gray never did end up a lawyer, and he hasn't spent a day in an office that didn't excite him. (Often, his office is on the road; he's covered stories from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to the 2009 cyclone in the Philippines and many more—he's even reported on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa by examining race relations in the country.)

After Nathan received the invitation from the Argentinean photojournalist, he packed his bags for China. Over the next two years, he walked and he wrote.
Nathan's book, "First Pass Under Heaven"

"Being first out of the womb, I am generally considered to be the elder," Nathan writes in the opening chapter of his book First Pass Under Heaven, which tells the tale of this incredible journey from the Gobi to the Bohai Sea. "Not so, it seems, from the perspective of the Maori. They believe the second is the elder because the latter twin 'kicked' the first from the womb. Life began with an eviction. I suppose it does with us all."

In his book, Nathan faces barely imaginable obstacles in his pursuit of his dream to walk the Great Wall. It's no secret that he makes it; the secret is in how he makes it. "I made a promise to myself," Nathan tells me. "And that was getting to the end of the wall."

To read about Nathan's incredible journey walking the Great Wall of China, you can buy "First Pass Under Heaven" (Penguin, 2006) on Amazon. Nathan has also recently published "The Age of Fire", an adventure travel book looking at where the human species is heading in the next fifty years. Buy it here. Nathan has clerked for the Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court/Waitangi Tribunal and worked in Communications for the CEO of the Ministry of Maori Development. He served five years on the Maori Board of Creative New Zealand as well as two years on the Board of the New Zealand Film Archive.

"LIVE from Mongolia!" is the true story of what can happen when you follow your wildest dream. It's available on Amazon (hardcover and Kindle), on Barnes & Noble, and in select int'l bookstores. Join me here for this weekly blog series featuring stories of ordinary people following extraordinary dreams!