I spent 31 days backpacking China. From Beijing to sleepy monastery towns it was quite the experience. There are 10 things I learned during the experience.
1. I really feel like going to the bathroom should be a private affair.
I don’t mind squattie potties, I don’t love them but its not a big deal to me. However I do not like when they don’t have stalls. I get even more bothered when there are stalls but sometimes women just leave it open? Maybe they feel lonely with it shut but I just think peeing privately is a much better experience. What really topped it all was in a bathroom at the Temple of Heaven when some lady, who must have oddly placed herculean muscles, was peeing so forcefully that it splattered on me in the next stall. I just get really tense when people urinate on me (I hope I’m not alone in that). While backpacking further out west bathroom things just went downhill Anyways I learned that I much prefer the bathroom experience when its an solitary experience.
2. If you stay in hostel dorms with all chinese people you may have to be the one to turn off the light.
I was the last one into the dorms a few times only to find that all the chinese guest were trying to sleep with the blankets over their heads. This has happened more the once and I find it very cute.
3. Never pay for a hostel until you see the bathrooms and guarantee they have a key to give you.
One hostel put me in a 6 bed dorm with a chinese family of 5 including small children which seemed weird and awkward already. Then they told me they just had one key for the room and that the family would keep the key. I demanded my money back and left.
4. The people you sit next to on the bus will give you food.
I had old Tibetan men giving me chunks of rock sugar (I was wondering if that was for a horse), people buy me bowls of noodles, bowtza, cucumbers… I shared my gum and no one wanted my oreos. Also sometimes people paid the fee for the bathroom for me which sort of felt weird for some reason. Still the Chinese were extremely kind while I was backpacking.
5. Hostel Bars are not always bars
Most of the hostels I stayed in said that they had bars. A few times when I asked if they had a beer I learned that “having a bar” meant that they would send an employee across the street to the store to buy a warm beer and come back with it. Then if they can’t find a bottle opener that employee might pop it off with his teeth. There is something rather alarming about observing that.
6. No one knows where Maine is
I’m used to Chinese people not knowing where Maine (my beloved home) is since they mostly know NYC, Miami, California and Seattle. When I explain where Maine is they usually think I’m Canadian. None of the people from other countries had heard of it either which is fine since I doubt I know anything significant about their countries geography, but I met an American who thought Maine was in the South and I don’t know how homeboy got himself a passport but I’m not sure we should let people like that out of the country. Poor Maine.
7. The no headphones thing in China is annoying
Its not considered rude in china to listen to something without headphones. I’ve never thought much about it until people were watching tv shows in the hostel dorms at 2am with no headphones or the girl next to me on the bus started playing C-Pop with no headphones.
8. People take a lot of pity on lost blonde backpackers
I occasionally end up just wandering around train/bus stations waving my ticket in people’s faces until they can point me in the right direction (this does make me feel like an idiot). People are so nice about it. I got super lost once on this trip and a driver made such an effort to explain to me that I was in the wrong town. I also got super confused while I was taking a shared minivan (I thought the driver wanted to kick me out) and this lady just basically kept me with her and her daughter the whole time. I had hostel workers give me rides and draw me maps to places. In a country that can at times be frustrating, people’s kindness always help me to let go of the small things.
9. Solo Travel is awesome
I loved the freedom of being on my own. If I liked a place I stayed a long time, if I didn’t then I left. I made decisions without thinking about it or discussing it. If I felt like spending too much money to go somewhere with a english menu and then drinking way too much coffee then I didn’t have to justify that to a soul. I took several hikes and spent time just daydreaming in the mountains alone. I spent part of the trip with my parents which I loved and I met lots of other backpackers to hang out with and share meals with, but I was independent and loved it
10. Its just never really enough
I’m so thankful for all the things I’ve gotten to see, but now my list of things I want to see in China is even longer. I’m not sure how long I would need to see all of it, not to mention all the other countries I want to see as well. With that in mind, today is the exact mid-point on my contract. I have 176 days left in Nanchong. I will not be signing another contract to stay a second year. I’m not at all opposed to teaching in China for a second year, but not right away. I do need to start making plans for my next advenure. I suspect it will be amazing