Ann Arbor-based tour guide brings joys and sorrows of Himalayan people to life

18 Apr

I’ve been fortunate enough to write a column called “Taylor Made Adventures” for the last 3 years.  This particular column is one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it as well.

Rick Taylor

Heather O’Neal is a world traveler, respected author, inspirational speaker and professional tour guide for private clients to exotic destinations around the world. Heather has taken her clients to see Spain, U.S. national parks and other intriguing destinations.

However, she’s famous for taking clients into the heart of the Himalayas; more specifically Mount Everest. Heather won’t take you to the summit of Mt. Everest, but her trusted Sherpa by the name of Pemba (Pem) Durjee will.

I first met Heather last spring at a party she hosted for her past clients. Heather was celebrating her 10-year anniversary as owner of “Of Global Interest Adventure Travel” based out of Ann Arbor. My fiancé and Heather have been lifelong friends, and we were invited to the party.

There were past clients from around the country who made it to this party. They talked about their adventures and how their lifelong goals were achieved. Some clients talked about their trips to Spain, while others talked about trekking from Katmandu to Base Camp at Mt. Everest.

Everyone shared a sense of awe and humility about their various adventures and how it changed their lives. It was an eye opening experience for me, far more than what I expected for the evening.

Heather was nice enough to talk with me about the Himalayan people and their culture. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t remember all that she shared with me. Heather described the majestic Himalayan Mountains and the beautiful people who inhabited the area.

However, she also discussed the extreme poverty, cultural taboos, child trafficking and leprosy that have plagued the region for centuries.

Any of these topics could make the strongest person weep for those who have suffered.

But, nothing prepared me for what Heather talked about next. Men and women who are convicted of a crime sometimes must also take their children to prison as well. Talk about the sins of the father.

My heart broke when Heather explained the reasoning behind this cultural practice. There’s a term called “juto” which loosely translated means bad luck. It’s believed that people who dishonor themselves bring bad luck (juto) to other family members. Therefore, even the children of the convicted bring dishonor (juto) to other relatives. It’s for this reason that the children typically go to prison with their parents.

Heather has worked tirelessly to help these children and other poor people by instituting the “Random Acts of Kindness” fund. Heather discussed her relationship with a friend by the name of Joe Connaughton who opened her eyes to the children in prison. In short, Joe gave her $100 back in 2000 and asked her to talk to the prison guards and get the kids some shoes or take them out to lunch.

Heather did just that and the rest is history. She collects money every year for the “Random Acts of Kindness” fund and helps the children out. Please go to Heather’s website for the full history of this inspiring story.

The highlight of the evening came when I met the Sherpa Heather works with, Pem Dorjee, his wife, Moni Mulepati, and their beautiful daughter. ‘Pemba’ is how you say Saturday in the Sherpa language. The mountain people of Nepal often name their children on the day they’re born. So, if a person’s name is Pemba, then it’s safe to say that s/he was born on a Saturday. In 2002, Heather and Pemba had a client who became the first cancer survivor to reach the top of Mt. Everest.

Pemba was born in Nepal and has a story so extraordinary that defies all logic. A Sherpa is a member of the Buddhist people of Tibet living on the southern side of the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal and are famous for their mountaineering expertise. I found it extraordinary to be in the presence of someone who was born and raised in the heart of the Himalayas and who climbed Mt. Everest on two occasions. These accomplishments in and of themselves are astonishing.

Pemba was born in a remote village high in the Himalayan Mountains. Pemba didn’t have electricity or running water and never saw the lights of a big city or cars until he was 20 years old. However, Moni was born and raised in the bustling city of Katmandu. Pemba was a Buddhist and Moni a Hindu. Simply stated, their respective religions forbid them from getting married.

But, love finds a way to enter one’s heart no matter where you’re from. Pemba and Moni fell in love but feared their families might never accept their marriage as legitimate. But, they believed in each other and hatched a plan that eventually made world news and history: Both Pemba and Moni made the near impossible decision to attempt a summit to the top of Mt. Everest. There, they would exchange their wedding vows should they make it to the top.

Pemba and Moni fought off frostbite, exhaustion and survived in the oxygen deprived area known as the “Death Zone” long enough to meet atop the summit of Mt. Everest. They literally found themselves on top of the world, briefly took off their oxygen masks and exchanged wedding vows. They were the first to ever get married on top of Mt. Everest.

Word soon spread of the good news making them heroes in Nepal. Heather said, “Not only did their parents finally accept their marriage, many people in their country admired their courage. In many ways their world news making Everest wedding has been influential in changing thousands of years of cultural traditions. Of course the younger generations are much more accepting than the older ones.”

It’s arguably the most beautiful story I’ve ever heard, and I wanted to share it with all of you. I think this story has the makings of a great movie if Hollywood gets a hold of it.

I’d like to thank Heather for her hospitality and for opening my eyes to the Himalayan culture.

Don’t hesitate to visit Heather’s website should you want to donate to “Random Acts of Kindness” or if you have any questions or interest in travelling to some amazing destinations around the world. Her website is


Information on Rick Taylor

18 Apr

High standards and professionalism best describe my attributes toward the needs of my clients in their real estate endeavors. I truly embrace the responsibility I’ve been given in helping both sellers and buyers achieve their real estate goals.

It’s the above mention statements that have helped me become one of the most trusted real estate professionals in the Ann Arbor area. Furthermore, I’ve been awarded the coveted “President’s Club Award” every year since I began my career 8 years ago.

I have the highest “Listing to Sell” ratio in our office; therefore, you can feel content in my abilities to sell your waterfront home, residential property or vacant land parcel. Finally, I’m a Certified Foreclosure Specialist (CFS) and currently sell foreclosed homes for 2 financial institutions.

You can feel confident in my services whether your looking to purchase your dream home or first time property. I can honestly say that I love my job and hope to gain you as my next client.

Real Estate Market Showing Progress in Washtenaw County

18 Apr

I’m often asked how the real estate market is doing? The many people who ask this question already have a sadness in their eyes anticipating the worst with my answer. Yet my response is, “I sold the most homes ever in 2010,” and these same people are shocked and elated to hear my answer.

They tell me that they had no idea because the television and newspaper headlines say the opposite. It’s frustrating to hear this common sentiment over and over again. I find myself being forced to educate the public on our real estate market.

By the way, I’m not the only realtor who’s had their best year ever.

Many realtors in Washtenaw County also had their best year ever in 2010, which begs the question why more people don’t know more about it. Thank goodness our local real estate market fairs better than national market statistics.

According to the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors, 90 more houses sold in 2010 (3,117) than in 2009 (3,027). In addition, the average sale price was up $184,217 in 2010 from $182,287 in 2009 and 33 percent of homes sold at their list price or higher.

The Ann Arbor economy is the driving force behind our real estate market in Washtenaw County. Take away the Ann Arbor economy and we’d be in a perilous position like so many other counties in our state. The Dexter, Chelsea, Saline and Manchester real estate markets are directly tied to the Ann Arbor economy. It’s this reason why I believe Washtenaw County has the strongest real estate market in the entire state.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t dealt with our share of the declining market over the last four years. I can cite example after example of devastated families who succumbed to short sale situations and even foreclosure. The exodus of Pfizer in Ann Arbor in 2006 was devastating to our economy due to the sheer numbers of people leaving the area. They also flooded the market with a surplus of homes forcing the prices down.

We have weathered that horrible storm and now find ourselves in a growing economy. We’ve actually seen an increase in the average sale price of homes — the first time since 2006.

This is great news!

But too few home owners know this. We’re aware of this because there are so few homes on the real estate market. We’ve had the lowest number of homes on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) since I can remember. To be more specific, there were 17,720 homes for sale in 2006. But, there were only 7,893 homes for sale in 2010.

There are many buyers who are actively complaining about the lack of homes to choose from on the MLS. Buyers are frustrated and want to buy a house of their choosing. But, sellers believe that the market isn’t sustainable right now and are too afraid to put their home on the market.

It’s also true that some sellers are waiting for the market to significantly improve before they list their home. We need sellers to put their home on the market so these buyers can help boost our economy even faster. So, if you’re a seller contemplating whether or not to put your home on the market. Give me or your favorite realtor a call. We’ll show you the statistics and you can make your decision from there.

For more information on local housing statistics, visit the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors Web site and click on the “resources” icon.