Category Archives: Book Tour

Chinese New Year

 

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Happiness

I always celebrate the Chinese New Year. I like being aware of what energies the new totem carries, asking people which year they were born, and what the astrology says about me. And there is a certain excitement with the Lunar New Year, because it means spring is on its way.

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I was just out of high school when I learned there was a whole way of keeping track of time by the moon. That always felt like a more accurate way to base a calendar. Plus, I like looking up at the night sky, I like remembering that the power that moves the moon moves through me.

The study of astrology came naturally to me. For decades I did charts for people, and had causal conversations with others. It was always fun, the Chinese Zodiac, in particular.  I liked the perspective that instead of one sign a month, there was one for a whole year. Not the year like we in the West knew it to be, one that started in February, and that made a difference. For instance, my father and mother are born the same year, but he is a Dragon, and she is a Snake. (And they so are.)

The characteristics are there, for sure, with a particular bent for men, and another for women. Men who are Tigers, or Rabbits, or Dogs seem to stand out in my life. A dear female friend is a Fire Monkey, born in the hour of the Monkey. She totally fits the profile. (And is totally looking forward to this year!) I admire the energy of the creative Dragon women, and the active Roosters. My year – those of the Sheep/Goat, well, we are quite the bunch. My graduating class has yet to have a reunion, and we just passed the big 30.

bluemoonsm300Here’s an except from my memoir, A Blue Moon in China, about the time when I was 21 years old and in China having a conversation with an American woman who was 45 years old that I had met the day before. The words come basically straight from the journal I kept while I travelled through China in 1988.

Chapter Seven: The Way to Yangshuo, A Blue Moon in China

“What year were you born?” she asked, popping the pineapple into her mouth.

“I was born in the spring before the Summer of Love,” I said. I liked thinking of it that way.

“Ah, 1967. I knew we had a kinship,” she smiled. “In the Chinese horoscope you were born in the Year of the Goat, like me.” She took a sip of her drink. “Supposedly we are born to love.” She rolled her eyes.

“I know, that’s why I call it the Year of the Sheep. I like the image of a sheep grazing on a green hillside, happy as can be.”

Our year was the only one of the twelve Chinese horoscopes to have two different totems.

“Sheep are vulnerable to predators,” Sherry countered. “Year of the Goat. That suits me better. The surefooted ability to scamper a mountainside, self-reliant. Fits with me always being off on adventure.”

 

As a special New Year’s Gift, if you order* the softcover of my memoir, A Blue Moon in China, you will receive a little black bag that reads: If you want a vacation, go to Hawaii. If you want an adventure, go to China.

*orders from website: abluemooninchina.com, while supplies last, in continental USA only

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The two photos were taken at the Lan Su Chinese Gardens in Portland, OR. I did a reading there while on my book tour. The Chinese character was made for me. You can see a video of it on my youtube channel, only it’s sideways (I don’t know why it came out that way).

 

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A Spontaneous Travel Decision – A city so nice I went thrice, then I went again.

NYC graffitti covered van

A few weeks ago I was on the Amtrak with a Rail Pass for an eight-city book tour promoting my travel memoir, A Blue Moon in China, about the two months I traveled through China in 1988 when I was 21 years old.

My last scheduled author talk was in St. Paul on July 13, and my next event wasn’t until July 26 in Ann Arbor. That left 12 days for a wild card adventure. I could go anywhere in the USA for free. My mind opened up to the plethora of possibilities.

I considered going back to Santa Fe where I started my book tour at the Summer Solstice. I have good friends there and could visit more of my old stomping grounds from the decade I called New Mexico home.

Los Angeles was inviting, too. I love the city, and had even been contemplating relocating there from Detroit once my tour was completed. The cool thing about that idea was the full circle synchronicity of it, for I had moved from LA back to the Motor City eight years before to write the memoir that I was now promoting. But even though I have friends and family in Los Angeles, it would be a three-day train trip from St. Paul, and I would have to rent a car again, further taxing my limited funds.

The idea of New York City popped into my mind. I hadn’t been there is over a decade.

I contacted a friend to stay with, and the decision was made: I was going to go, I really was. I was so excited.

IMG_2309The first time I went to NYC was in 1986 when I was 19 years old. It was the 100-year anniversary of the Statue of Liberty and a big celebration was planned. I was supposed to meet a friend who flew in from Detroit ahead of me, but we didn’t connect. There I was, alone at the airport, without a place to stay. Luckily my mom had given me my cousin’s phone number, “just in case.” I put a coin in the payphone and crossed my fingers he was home. He was. I got on a graffiti covered subway car, then transferred to another one just as gritty, and climbed a set of stairs out into the lower eastside of Manhattan.

It was late, but people were everywhere, many sitting on blankets on the sidewalks selling all manner of things. I’d never seen anything like it. It was a night bazaar. I quickly realized most were probably homeless and earning money so they could at least eat.

My cousin lived in a small cellar studio apartment. It was crammed full of everything, including a girlfriend. She took my surprise visit well, and we three walked to the firework mega-display together. What a blast that was.

pproseThe next time I came to NYC was 1997. I came in on the Amtrak from Lamy, New Mexico, arriving on my 30th birthday with the intention of living in the big city. A friend met me at the station and gave me the welcome gift of a taxi ride to my new digs on the upper west side. I was to stay with a friend’s grandmother, a 90-year old Hungarian Jew named Rose who would prove to be quite the hardcore character. She enjoyed her vodka and beer, and moving furniture around by herself. The pre-war apartment was spacious, and there was a doorman. The upper west side felt like a world away from where my cousin lived on the lower east side. His part of town was where the actors and artists struggling to make ends meet lived; this neighborhood was much more affluent.

New York in the mid-90s was a transformed world from the mid-80s. I remember the moment I realized this was fact. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I was walking from a friend’s house in Greenwich Village and wandered under an archway into a big public park. People were picnicking, playing Hacky Sack, and hanging out listening to the live music of a lone saxophone player. The water splashing from a large fountain reflected the bright sunlight. The sky was blue. It was an idyllic environment.

ppmanwithbananasThen it hit me: I was in Washington Square Park! Ten years prior this place had been full of drug dealers offering me every kind of substance at a good price. I couldn’t believe it! The change was astounding. I knew it was due to the new policies under the new mayor, a man called Giuliani. But where did all the homeless people go? And the drug dealers? It was like they had vanished without a trace.

The last time I had been in New York City was in 2001. I had moved there once again from New Mexico. I left on Buddha’s birthday – May 5th. From the moment I arrived I noticed the city felt different. The usual vibrancy of New York and its people seemed off, subdued somehow; a negative energy was palpable. I kept saying to a friend: It feels like the apocalypse has happened, but no one knows it yet. I wanted to leave immediately. I stayed only two months before I drove with a friend to Burning Man out in the desert of Nevada, then onward to San Francisco. It was there that I awoke to the news that the World Trade Center towers had collapsed. The horror and sadness I felt was only intensified by the fact that I had walked those streets so recently. I wondered if the unsettled feeling I had experienced in New York was some eerie premonition of 9/11.

NYC graffitiBut now it was 2015. And I wanted to go, just because I could. So I did.

To my eye, Manhattan was the same as it ever was – lots of people of every demographic and ethnicity, some in penthouses, others on the street. Though this time the homeless looked young, as I noticed they did in Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Like always, people played chess in the parks and sold used books on the sidewalks. Drivers honked horns impatiently when traffic stopped too long, and ambulances still had to squeeze their way through the congestion. And I caught whiffs of garbage as I walked down streets. But the subways were cleaner, and there was less graffiti. When I searched out remnants of old New York I found them – old bakeries, 24-hour delis, produce stands, street musicians, repertory theatres, and museums.

Chinatown NYC

I didn’t see too many signs of what I had been reading in magazines and hearing from friends – that NYC was now more for the wealthy than for the everyday person. Maybe the change is subtle, like in the cost of living rather than an increase of blatant bling. But in Chinatown I did see the encroachment of boutique stores, and in the Bowery I found the legendary music venue CBGB’s was now a high-end men’s clothing store.

church with rainbow flagThe biggest difference I noticed between my short stint in 2001 and this one in 2015 was that people seemed more relaxed and nicer to each other. I was able to make eye contact and engage in a little conversation with strangers on the subway, merchants in stores, and lovers of music hanging out in parks. I had the sense that a lingering residue of 9/11 hung in the air, reminding people that life is precious. I felt more a part of the big family of humanity living together in the Big Apple than I ever had before.

My spur of the moment decision to go to NYC was definitely the cherry on top of my five-week book tour.

einstein at the highline NYC

this article was edited by Christopher Ross and was first published in the women’s travel magazine Pink Pangea

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