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! 🙂

About Heather

I am a career educator transitioning into a life that will allow me to combine my passion for education with travel and writing. Come with me on the adventure of a lifetime!
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8 Responses to Take Two: China – You Kicked My Ass!

  1. elsie norback says:

    OMG- what an adventure….

  2. Emmy Gale says:

    I am so impressed and inspired. So many people, myself included, vicariously lived through you upon your travels. The Women ‘kind’ salue you!!!

    • Heather says:

      Thanks, you two!!! This is a story from over a year ago, but I think of it often when I embark on a new journey – NOTHING could be more difficult than China alone!

  3. Heather, how difficult of a time does someone have there if they don’t know the language?

    • Heather says:

      I’d say that was my #1 difficulty. When I traveled with the lovely ladies from Italy who were fluently tri-lingual, it was considerably easier and more fun. And they were great to hang out with, too. So I’d say also having travel buddies who you enjoy is important.

  4. Tim Harrigian says:

    Great story, well written, and thankfully real in what happens when we travel alone to a different country not knowing the language…Thanks Heather

  5. Natasha says:

    Loved this had to read the first part as well . My friend started her rtw trip in china needless to say she had a full breakdown sobbing down the phone long distance to the uk after a week in china as she got lost and no one would or could talk to her so she called me to to google the address as she couldn’t find wifi …. Think I might do japan first .

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