Take Two: China – You Kicked My Ass!

Gentle reader: This is a radical re-write (or maybe an extension?) of a post about the trip to China that I wrote in my last blog. You can read that here.

I am taking a course called “Damn Fine Words” which is blowing all of my pre-conceived notions about good writing out of the water. If you’re interested in the course, let me know:) This new iteration is a result of that course.


The cheesy "must take" photo at the Terracotta Warriors souvenir shop

Getting to China and traveling solo in China are two completely different animals. Anyone can get a

  • visa,
  • a plane ticket,
  • and a hotel reservation.

It takes super-human strength and courage to survive and thrive as a Western tourist there. China thoroughly kicked my ass.

I was neither mentally nor physically prepared for what I would experience on this journey. Inadvertently, I planned my travel during a Chinese national holiday – a blunder of indescribable magnitude.


To complicate matters right from the start, the ONLY travel agent I could find in Bejing knew nothing about trains and airfare – duh? I had to do and re-do SO many plans just to sight-see with only minimal inconvenience or near violence.

The first part of the trip in Beijing (FAR too long) was just an appetizer. Xi’An and Chengdu were ten-course meals of rice and aggravation as well.

Thankfully I was able to use the skills I’d gained during the two prior months of solo travel in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I added to those skills and quickly improvised my trip into one I survived, conquered, and even enjoyed.

After I located and vacated my first super-crappy hotel in Beijing I had to find – on foot, with a tiny tourist map – my second Chinese abode. Then I commenced to plan day trips in and out of Beijing to see my coveted sights and those friends recommended.

I was completely unprepared for the gargantuan size of Beijing. Thankfully the city has great subway system. My newly honed ability to crowd-surf added to the utility and novelty of traveling by subway.

Emerging from the subway, I was shocked and amazed by how one tiny inch on the tourist map could take me an hour or more to walk.

Each adventure was fraught with countless opportunities to get lost. I took advantage of all of them.

This problem was compounded by Beijing taxi drivers who do not pick up Western tourist females with blonde hair. We must look like trouble to them.


In Xi’An I was SO lucky to meet three Italian women – my angels! – who spoke Italian, English, AND Mandarin. They were studying to be tri-lingual interpreters. These women graciously included me in most of their activities from the moment I met them – TRUE life-savers.

Xi’An itself was a filthy, dismal city full of garbage, vomit, and shit (no exaggeration). During the Chinese national holiday, all bets of cleanliness and street cleaning are OFF.

Also OFF – an intimate meeting with the Terracotta Warriors. Apparently I chose to view them along with a million Chinese tourists.

Crowd surfing was again required, as was making that little peace sign in photos in front of everything. Ugh!!!


Chengdu was almost completely solo for me, which was fine. The most important sight for me there was the giant panda sanctuary. These adorable furry creatures alone made the trip worthwhile.

I found a somewhat comfortable hostel and again, stayed a little longer than I needed to. Seriously – three weeks in China was FAR too much for as little as I did there.

The extended time merely increased my opportunities to get lost. Sigh.

I survived!

Even though China kicked my ass, I am a more confident, stronger person -still here to write about it. I got lost a million times but alas! Here I am!!!

I almost got abducted by a pedicab driver in Beijing, but alas! Yelled at him and made a scene until he let me off.

And I froze my ass off as my summer holiday seeped into the cold, gray China fall.  But I did NOT freeze to death, after all.

Home at last!

The day I landed on American soil after three months abroad was one of the happiest of my life. My husband met me in San Francisco. I can only imagine how awful I looked.

I had easily lost 10 pounds. I had no muscle tone anywhere but in my legs (from getting lost and walking everywhere!) I had NO appetite, even though I was so grateful to be around American food.

I alternated between manic explanation of my adventures and falling asleep in my meals. I had a raging sinus infection and a raging appetite for American alcoholic beverages. I’m sure I was a treat to be around!


Then I got a call that my dearest colleague and friend had suffered a stroke while I was traveling. I would need to fill in for her right away at the college.

What a wake-up call that was! Really? Sandy? OMG! Seeing her in a hospital bed was probably one of the saddest experiences of my life.

How could I feel sorry for how “difficult” my time in China had been when here she was, quite literally fighting for her life?

I was able to channel the strength I gained in China into supporting my friend and taking over for her at the college. I also hired a physical trainer and re-gained the strength needed for the snowboard season.

I felt like a Ninja!

After a crazy fall semester I took that new Ninja outlook up to Beaver Creek and had an incredible snowboard season. The next summer’s travels were even better – full of new – even more brave! – adventures and accomplishments.

Yes, China kicked my ass, but in a good way. I am thankful for the experience and feel lucky for this life-changing opportunity.

Would I do it again? Yes, but (dare I say it?!?) with a tour group! 🙂

Posted in Asia, blogging, butterflies in stomach, education, English teachers abroad, Heather Boylan, learning curve, lessons, professional blogging, reality, reality check, scared shitless, shocking, southeast asia, teacher education, teachers who travel, teaching English, travel, travel writing, traveling with Heather, travelwithheather, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

More about Volunteering in Tana Toraja

How cute are these students at Merda’s preschool in Tana Toraja?

Morning Exercises


Here is a guest blog I wrote about volunteering in Tana Toraja for MyItchyTravelFeet.com – a travel website for baby boomers. Enjoy!

Click here for more photos documenting my teacher training travels.

If you would like more information about volunteering with children, teachers, or countless other individuals in the Tana Toraja community, please contact me. You can use the “contact me” button above or email me at heather@travelwithheather.com

You can also take a look at the “Education Outreach” tab above for a glance at my recent volunteer experiences in Indonesia.

Though my volunteer experiences have been with teachers, community members in all sectors would welcome your efforts.


Posted in Asia, blogging, education, English teachers abroad, English teaching, Heather Boylan, Indonesia, lessons, professional blogging, southeast asia, teacher education, teachers who travel, teaching English, travel writing, traveling with Heather, travelwithheather, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet Sugus: Top Dog of Kuta Beach

This is Sugus.

Beach Stud

Sugus has an “owner” – Linda, one of the “Bosses of the Chairs” (beach chair renters) at the beach. Linda clearly loves Sugus.

Every morning Sugus and Linda hop on her motorbike and travel the two or so kilometers to the beach together.  One is rarely without the other.

Commuting to Work

When Sugus gets to the beach, he’s on his own. He dumpster dives:

Lunch Time!

He chases the bitches. Then has a nap.

<I can’t believe I don’t have a photo of this dog taking a nap!>

He barks at whomever he wants to, just because he can. Small children and old women with big plastic bags beware – no one is spared.

Those of us who know Sugus make up stories about him to pass the time:

  • he sleeps all day because he’s been up entertaining the ladies at Sky Garden the night before;
  • we try to pick out the beach dog who is his “daddy.”

While I can’t say I participate in or condone this one, some of the beach boys pick on him a bit, giving him a little scare every once in a while. You know – a “pop” from a plastic bottle top forcibly expelled in his direction.  He usually just jumps up, yawns, and re-locates his nap.

Urban legend has it that one night Sugus even killed a cat. At only about 20 lbs., I’m not so sure he could (or actually WOULD) do that. But it makes for a good Sugus story.

Sugus accompanied another tourist to a party at my apartment, which is about 2 km from where he lives. He just left Linda on the beach and hopped on this friend’s motorbike for the ride here.

He spent some time chasing my landlord’s dogs around the yard while we had our party.

At one point I asked, “Where’s Sugus?”

Someone replied, “He went home.”

“How?” I asked.

“He just went. Walked home.”

“He knows the way?”

“Of course, he lives here!”

I guess he’d had enough of the party and did what any self-respecting, bored dog would do – he left.

So yesterday when my friend and I wandered into the street outside the beach wall where people who work there gather at the end of the day, assembling their goods and families for their trips home, I was dismayed to see Sugus DISTRESSED. He was pacing amongst the snarl of motorbikes where Linda normally parks, looking around for her.

At one point he jumped on the motorbike of one of the beach boys he sees daily. I asked, “Do you know where he lives?”

“No,” Alan replied, looking concerned but not really knowing what to do. Sugus wouldn’t budge until I started petting his neck and ears and coaxed him back to the curb.

“What should we do? Is Linda gone?” I asked my friend who was giving me a ride home.

“We can take him home.”

“Do you know where Linda lives?” I asked.

“Yeah” he said, “we can take him there.”

With little coaxing, Sugus mounted my friend’s scooter on the flat spot in front of his feet. He’s an expert rider and didn’t flinch, even when we had to make some hard, sudden stops or hit the speed bumps. I swear he was sleeping standing up.

When we arrived at this home, my friend had to wake him up to get him off the bike and headed towards his house. He looked a little dazed and confused when I looked back at him, but I’m sure he got inside.

Sugus was back on the beach today, up to his usual antics. It’s his home, and he was expected.

Posted in Asia, Bali, beach dog stories, dog travel stories, Heather Boylan, Indonesia, motorbike, southeast asia, travel, travel writing, travelwithheather | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment