Wherever The Path May Lead

It’s been a long time since I posted an article, and I think a lot of that has to do with the end-of-year burnout that seems to plague teachers and students alike. I’ve been working on lessons for the rest of my time in Cili, getting ready for my next year in Yueyang, and heading home next month, as well as thinking about where my path will go next.

People who know me outside of the blog know that I am a very creative person. I love working with music, art, and above all, writing. For reasons that are many and varied, I decided not to bring a lot of my creative outlets with me to China, like my knitting supplies—a decision that I regretted when culture shock reared its ugly head. I have learned this year that I need music in my life, as well as the tools to create it on my computer, and I also need to work on my writing. One of my goals for China was to self-publish a book before I leave; while I’m nowhere near achieveing that goal, I’m very close to getting the first draft finished, which is a huge step for me.

Part of my path going forward is to include creativity into my life for self-expression, if not to sow the seeds for a future career. I have started a blog under my pen name, and I hope to keep that going as I keep writing and hopefully publishing my work. I hope to be able to develop a music production setup for next year so I can start composing and producing music again (that’s on the blog too).

I always get the question of “where I see myself in five years”, but it’s a bit tricky when my life has changed so much even in the last year and a half. I’ve changed career paths and moved to rural China. When I first came here, I didn’t plan to stay in Yueyang next year, yet here I am. That said, some things like writing and music have stayed the same. I’ve been listening to a lot of self-development podcasts, and they talk about living one’s truth; wherever the path may lead, I hope I’m getting closer to living my truth.

I’ve been working on my visa for next year, and I’m hoping I can talk about my process and lessons learned. If you want to hear about that, or anything else, please let me know in the comments below! I hope to be back here soon, so I’ll see you then! Zai jian!

Why I Decided To Stay

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.

I have decided to stay in China for another year!

As I’m typing this, I have sent off a signed contract with the Hunan Institute of Science and Technology in Yueyang, just north of Changsha, and am working to extend my visa for another year. I will still be teaching English, only this time at a university level in another part of Hunan.

There are a few reasons why I decided to stay. The first one is about the language and culture. I feel like while I’ve learned a lot of Chinese while I was here in Cili, I would do best in an academic setting where the learning is structured and I can then apply the lessons in daily life. I feel like I’ve let myself down with the amount of Chinese I could have learned if I had taken classes, but if I’m taking classes at the institute as well as teaching, I hope that will change. I also feel like with a year of being in China, I have spent a lot of it dealing with culture shock; now that the culture shock has been manageable, I feel like I’d be better able to appreciate the culture of China.

I knew I wanted to stay in China, but I didn’t really want to stay in Cili. The good part about being in Cili is that I was away from the chaos of the major cities; that’s also the curse of being in Cili, as being so far away from major cities is a nuisance when I’m trying to travel. In Yueyang, I can easily take the gaotie (high-speed rail) to Changsha in half an hour, as opposed to three to four hours by bus or slow train from Cili. Also, while I feel big cities are really chaotic (in this case, Changsha falls under the category of “big city”), I need things to do to get out of my apartment like coffee shops to work in and hangout spots similar to the archery range we went to for orientation in Changsha. I did not have many options in Cili, and I hope that being in Yueyang will help me get out more and get the most out of living in China.

Also, while I’m ready to visit home after being away for so long (this is by far the longest I’ve ever been away from home), I’m honestly not ready to return to the U.S. for the long term. Ever since my month of traveling, I have been enchanted with living abroad and going on more adventures. I already have planned some adventures for the future, and I’m hoping I can bring you along with me!

This feels like such a small article compared to others I have written, but I wanted to let you know what was going on in my life and the future of the blog. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with another article! See you then! Zai jian!

My 30 Before 30 Challenge

I have seen other people do a “thirty before thirty” challenge, with entries like “go skydiving”, “cook dinner for the family”, or “travel alone”. While these are all good ideas, and I have my own list of similar goals (e.g., “publish one of my novels” and “release a music track”), I’ve also been plagued with this feeling that I’ve seen so little of the world. I have never been to South America. I have never been to Africa. I have never been to the South Pacific. I have only been to a fraction of Europe, to the point that I can’t say I’ve really been there. (For instance, if one has only been to the tourist spots of Paris, has one really seen France? I’m inclined to answer “no”, though it’s definitely better than not going at all.)

I turn twenty-five this year, and I’m already feeling the quarter-life crisis creeping in. I know I’m almost expected to go back to the United States and live a “normal” life (whatever that means), but I also can’t deny that I feel the strongest and most capable when I am on the move. When I was in Guilin, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Inner Mongolia… it always felt like I was in my element, being out in the world and experiencing it.

As a result, I’ve decided to make a challenge for myself to travel to thirty countries before I turn 30 years old.

I wish I could say this was my original idea, but that would be a lie. I was inspired after reading an article from the travel blog The Sweetest Way, in which Leah Davis challenged herself to travel to thirty countries before she turned thirty. When she posted the article, she had just turned twenty-seven, so she had three years to complete her “thirty before thirty”. (Spoiler alert: she accomplished this goal a year later!)

Here’s the extra challenge I want to give myself: Leah included all the traveling she had done before she had set that challenge for herself. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I want to challenge myself to include only the traveling I do from this point on (with the exception of China, because I already live here and not including that would be ridiculous). I definitely would love to continue traveling and exploring, and hopefully I’ll be able to achieve this goal!

It’s a stormy day here in Cili, and as I’m typing this, I’m preparing for today’s classes. I hope to be back later this week with another article about a life update that I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while. See you then! Zai jian!

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“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves—in finding themselves.”
~ Andre Gide

Guilin: An Unexpected Journey

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.

Last week was the week of the Tomb Sweeping Festival (Qingming Jie), so that meant that we get classes off while the students were observing the holiday. I had hoped to travel to Guilin for this holiday, but since we were told we only had three days off for the holiday, I decided it was not worth the stress to travel anywhere far away, and grudgingly decided to stay in Cili. With that in mind, one might easily understand why, after learning on Tuesday morning that I had no classes that day (effectively lengthening my holiday from three days to four), I decided to throw all my essentials into a backpack and travel to Guilin anyway for a last-minute vacation.

Spoiler alert: That decision was SO WORTH IT!

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The 20-yuan bill scenery

Guilin is in northern Guangxi Province, a province southwest of Hunan Province that shares a border with Vietnam. The mountains surrounding the Li River are featured on the 20 yuan bill, so it’s no surprise that’s considered a jewel of Chinese scenery. Another cohort went to a lake that looked almost identical to the one from Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (for fellow Tomb Raider buffs, it’s the scene where Lara and Terry Sheridan enter China by pod and they crash it into the lake); I don’t think I was able to find it, but the scenery on the Li River and in Guilin still made me feel like we would turn a corner and see the Argonath (the giant statues of old kings) from Fellowship of the Ring.

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The view from the Li River on our way to Xingping from Guilin

Guilin is three and a half hours from Changsha by bullet train (gaotie). Little did I know when I booked my ticket at the station, that—ooh la la—I got the business class option (not what I expected, but I’m not complaining, since it was one of the last tickets available for that train; after my train ride in Inner Mongolia, I would have rather avoided a standing ticket). It definitely made the three and a half hours go by faster.

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The view from Laozhai Hill, Xingping

Based on photos and feedback from my cohorts that had already been to Guilin, I spent a lot of my time in Xingping (20 minutes by gaotie from Guilin to Yangshuo station, which is technically closer to Xingping than Yangshuo but that’s a separate issue). On a cohort’s suggestion, I stayed at This Old Place (老地方) International Youth Hostel in Guilin Tuesday evening, before heading over to Xingping on a river boat the next morning and staying at their sister hostel there. When I stayed in This Old Place in Guilin, the dorm rooms available were coed, which I have yet to feel comfortable with, so I went with a private room. The rooms I had in Guilin and Xingping were minimal, but clean and comfortable. They serve breakfast for 20 yuan (you have to order that one the night before), and they have really good English. This is not meant to be a review on This Old Place, but I would love to stay there again.

 

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View of the river near Tengjiao Nunnery
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View from the pier in Xingping

In Xingping, I visited the Tengjiao Nunnery with other hostel guests that I met, and I also hiked Laozhai Hill, where I was able to get beautiful pictures of the Li River scenery. I also met up with another cohort back in Guilin, and we were able to get some beautiful photos and have dinner before I went back to Cili Friday morning.

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Sun and Moon Pagodas in Guilin

I feel like I could have stayed a day or two more in Xingping to see everything I could, and an extra day or two in Guilin to fit in a day trip to the region’s famous rice terraces. Hopefully, I’ll be able to go back to Guilin, and I’ll be able to go to the spots I missed and be able to appreciate the scenery there more. Even though this trip was extremely last-minute, I’m really proud of myself for making the choice to go on an adventure!

We’re slowly starting to wrap up here in China; I’ll be going back to Changsha later this month for the end-of-service meeting with WorldTeach, and I’ll be preparing for my next adventure. What will that next adventure be? I plan for that to be my next article. See you then! Zai jian!

Lessons Learned From A Month On The Road

Today was my first day back in classes, and I’m glad to be back teaching in Cili. That said, I still have all the memories of being on the road for a month. I’m really proud of myself for packing for a month of traveling in a carry-on suitcase, and that I did all the things I did. From cheering on the Olympic Athletes from Russia’s (OAR’s) men’s hockey team in the Olympic finals at their hospitality house in Pyeongchang, to playing with elephants in Thailand, I can’t believe how fortunate I am to have these experiences. I wanted to wrap up my trip, as far as the blog is concerned, with some things I was grateful for, and some things that I would have done differently.

Things I’m grateful for on this trip:

  • I’m grateful I packed so lightly. A lot of traveling places focus on shopping opportunities, and while I understand that helps the tourist economy in those areas, that’s not a priority for me, and I’m grateful I had the self-restraint to avoid buying a ton of souvenirs. Plus, what with all the mass transit I took, I was so grateful I didn’t have a giant suitcase to lug onto planes and trains and buses. That said, I could probably have gotten away with packing a slightly larger suitcase since my bag started to get a bit stuffed when I got a few things like my Jiji mug and my harem pants.
  • I’m grateful everything went as smoothly as possible. Especially on transit days, I got super anxious (like when I feared I’d miss one or both of my flights to Chiang Mai), but I was just grateful it all worked out. In hindsight, I would rather have a longer layover than rush through a shorter layover and risk missing my flight, but I’m grateful it all worked out with the times I had.
  • I’m so glad I had local recommendations. My Airbnb host in Chiang Mai not only was really open with communication, but they also sat down with me my first day in Chiang Mai and gave me some awesome recommendations for places to go in the city! I stayed with a family friend in South Korea, and she and I had a lot of fun going to the places that she loved in Seoul. If I didn’t have these local recommendations, I would have been so clueless, and I feel like I wouldn’t have enjoyed my time as much as I could have.

Things I would do differently next time:

  • Maxi skirts are not a wise packing decision. As I described in my packing article, I packed two maxi skirts and rotated them rather regularly throughout the month. They did the job—they covered my body in a pretty manner, they provided ideal coverage in the Buddhist temples of Thailand, and I could wear leggings underneath them in Seoul and Japan. That said, they are not practical for travel. In the month I’ve traveled, not only did they take up more space in my bag than I would have liked, but also the hems of my skirts have gotten caught on the wheels of my suitcase, the decorative finials on an umbrella stand, the skull of a water buffalo (?) on display at a roadside market stand (luckily it didn’t break), the track of a moving escalator in Tokyo Station, and (are you ready for this?) the closure clasp of my backpack when I set it on the floor. In the future, much as I despise jeans, those or loose-fitting trousers like harem pants (which I ended up buying a pair of in Chiang Mai) might have been wiser options for being on the move so often.
  • I would have gritted my teeth about the weight and brought my laptop. While my iPad and phone were more than sufficient to do the things that mattered (e.g., check emails, update social media, post blog articles), it would have been nice to have my computer to back up photos (my phone’s storage capacity started to complain halfway through the trip). Plus, while doing blog articles on my iPad is possible, I’m so used to writing them on my computer that it was something of an adjustment process to work with my iPad. I will say, though, my iPad is much more portable than my kind-of-clunky laptop, so depending on priorities, which one to bring is a dice roll.
  • I would have brought a backup pair of glasses. My old glasses had a really bad tendency to fall off my face and onto the floor, but it would be while I was away from home for a month when they would break on impact. I have a backup pair in China, but I didn’t bring them with me, so I had to make an emergency trip to Zoff and get a new pair. A vision test, frames, and lenses cost me ¥9,000 plus tax (about US$90), which is a steal compared to how much glasses cost in the U.S., but it’s still ¥9,000. That said, I love my new glasses, but I could have avoided the emergency purchase and the stress of broken glasses if I had brought my backup pair (I’m nearsighted, so this might as well have been a non-negotiable purchase).
  • I would have paid extra for free checked bags on my flights. One thing that was acutely annoying with flying through AirAsia (I flew with them in and out of Thailand) is that they have a seven-kilogram weight limit for carry-on bags (for non-metric-system-using readers, seven kilograms is about fifteen pounds—the weight of an average school student’s backpack, if not lighter). Because my suitcase was 10kg (22 pounds, which I think is amazing, considering I was packing for an entire month), checking my suitcase from Tokyo to Bangkok to Chiang Mai set me back about $200. Grrrrrrr. (In my defense, I was not aware of this until after I purchased my non-refundable tickets.) The plus side is that I didn’t have to pick up my suitcase until I was in Chiang Mai, and I was able to put my in-flight essentials into a separate bag and put my bulky backpack in the overhead bin. I’m okay with no free meals or beverages (I normally fill up my reusable water bottle before my flight anyway and buy snacks), but no free checked bags, and a ridiculous (there, I said it) baggage weight limit on top of that? I have to draw the line somewhere.

Hopefully, I’ll have some more opportunities to travel and write some more articles for the blog before I return home for the summer! There are some plans in the works for a possible trip to Guilin in the next few months, so we’ll see if that works out! See you next time! Zai jian!

Random Thoughts: Traveling as an Introvert

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai thus far, but I feel really bad to say I haven’t really done that much; the first full day I was here (yesterday), aside from going out to eat, I met with my Airbnb host for suggestions on where to go in the city, and I stayed in my place regrouping from my stressful travel day from Tokyo to Chiang Mai (I was worried at at least one point that I would miss both of my flights). I knew I had to do this after being nearly constantly on the move in Japan, and I think part of the reason is because I am an introvert. If you’re an introvert too, welcome and well met! :waves:

As far as the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) is concerned, I’m 50-50 INFP and INFJ, but I identify the most as an INFJ (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging, you can find out more about all sixteen MBTI types here; all the photos I found on Pinterest). People who are INFJ are known for being a bit self-contradictory and frequently misunderstood. Based on my going-on-twenty-five-years’ experience, I can confirm the self-contradiction part; I am a full-on introvert, but if I don’t have social interaction for a period of time, I can get a bit stir-crazy. I would love to see so much and take in all the information I can about a place, but at the same time, sometimes I just want to hole up with a book in a café and read and/or people-watch.

Let me just make this clear: this is not meant to be a complaint against traveling. I love traveling, and I thoroughly appreciate the lessons I learn and experiences I have in each new place. I can’t deny, though, that it’s hard to recharge the energy I lose from being around people when I’m constantly on the move in buses, trains, planes, and in tourist locations—places where there are naturally tons and tons of people.

Much as I loved my time in Japan and other parts of the world, I have to admit that perhaps cities like Tokyo and Kyoto generally run at a faster pace than I do. There would be times over the past two weeks when I’d be exhausted by dinnertime just from being around so many people, and there’d be so much chaos that I’d often get slightly disorientated—metro hubs like Shinjuku and Tokyo were a huge culprit for this. Maybe that’s why I loved being out in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia so much back in October of last year; while I was traveling in a group, there was so much open space and so many things to do that we could conceivably split off and do our own thing if we needed or wanted to.

I know I had to take time to recharge yesterday, but I also feel extremely ungrateful for the time I have in another country when I spend time regrouping, especially after a particularly stressful transit day. I know based on previous experience, however, that if I’m on a tight schedule to see what I want to see, I am often required to push past my need to recharge to do more and more; I know when I do that, I become more and more stressed out, and my behavior towards others runs the risk of becoming less than ideal. That’s not a person I want to be, especially when I’m traveling by myself. I have prioritized my peace of mind on this trip, especially since this is my first time traveling solo for an extended period of time.

I am not a therapist or life coach, so I can only talk about my experience, but some things that work for me are:

  • Doing what it takes to replenish my energy, whether it be writing, listening to music, or sitting by myself with a coffee and people-watching (it doesn’t help that sitting and watching people makes me kind of feel like Aragorn at The Prancing Pony in The Fellowship of the Ring :giggles:)
  • Traveling in the off-season, traveling to less populated areas as opposed to major cities like Tokyo or Paris, or otherwise spending time alone in nature (I did this in Japan by spending time at a cat cafe in Harajuku)
  • Booking private rooms in hostels or on Airbnb, cost permitting, if you’re traveling solo
  • Attending workshops, classes, and tours in subjects that interest you, so if you do interact socially with the other students/attendees, you can have some common ground to talk about
  • Spending more time in one place to get a more thorough, relaxed experience of the destination (as opposed to bouncing around from place to place and rushing to see everything)

Hopefully these help if you are an introvert and love to travel. It is possible for us to go out into the world and take in all it has to offer, while still enjoying our downtime and solitude. Good luck, fellow introverts, and safe travels!

I’m looking forward to spending more time in Chiang Mai, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere compared to the hectic pace of Japan. Is there anything you want me to talk about during my time in Thailand? Please let me know in the comments below! Thank you so much for reading! Until next time, แล้วพบกันใหม่!

Six Lessons I Took From Japan: Final Thoughts

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my Airbnb in Chiang Mai, Thailand, adjusting to the new change of weather and getting ready for the next part of my trip. Since leaving Japan, I have thought about what I learned from my experiences there. My time in Japan reminded me to be present in the moment (like when I dressed as a maiko) and to enjoy the small things (like spotting the first cherry blossoms in Gion), and it reinforced my appreciation of the Japanese culture and cities with a strong public transit system. To wrap up my time in Tokyo and Kyoto as far as the blog is concerned, here are some lessons I took away about traveling in Japan.

  1. If you don’t speak Japanese, or need to use Google Maps while on the move, a pocket Wi-Fi will be your best friend! When I first got to Japan, there was a train accident that left me stranded near the airport at 23:00 (that’s 11:00PM, for those who don’t use military/European time; sorry but I’m so used to using it now), and honestly, if I didn’t have pocket Wi-Fi to find an alternative way into the city, I likely would have been crying. It was a great peace of mind to be able to access Google Translate or Google Maps (or any other navigation app of your choice), and I’m already missing the pocket Wi-Fi here in Chiang Mai. For words that I was trying to translate on menus, I also used the app Imiwa?, which works offline, so if you need to access a word or phrase on the go, that’s good as a backup (or if you don’t have pocket Wi-Fi)!
  2. Book your airfare with knowledge of your accommodations. I booked Airbnbs in the Shinagawa (Airbnb) and Nakano (Airbnb) areas of Tokyo. I had no problems with either Airbnb, but to get to and from Narita Airport, I had to cross through Tokyo to the other side of the city, which takes about two hours. I got into my Airbnb in Nakano around 1:00 in the morning, and I had to get up for my train from Shinagawa to Narita around 5:00 in the morning to get there on time for a 9:00 flight. It probably would have been wiser to book my departing flight out of Haneda Airport, which would have been closer to Shinagawa, but there we go, lesson learned.
  3. If you want to do museums or temples on a limited time schedule, PRI-OR-I-TIZE. At least in the off-season when I went to Japan, the temples and museums were open for such a narrow window of time (often 10:00-17:00, give or take) that getting around the city and getting to visit all the areas the cities had to offer was virtually impossible. Also, a lot of places were closed on Tuesdays or Wednesdays as opposed to being closed on weekends, so that was an added complication. Do your research ahead of time to figure out what you want to see and plan your days accordingly.
  4. Get a Japan Rail Pass, especially if you want to take the Shinkansen bullet trains and are going to more than one city. Obviously, if you’re staying in one city, this would not be necessary but since I stayed in Kyoto and Japan, this was a godsend. They’re a bit expensive up front, but given that a rail ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo is about $160-$180 each way, a $300 (give or take) seven-day JRail pass more than paid for itself in the time I was there. Also, being able to use the JRail pass on Tokyo JR lines was pretty sweet, and made it even more of a bargain, considering how quickly the costs of public transit add up. This leads me to my next lesson:
  5. When budgeting time and money for your trip, take public transit into account. Luckily, Japan has reliable public transportation, but they still can take a good half hour to an hour, depending on where you’re going and if you have to change routes. Plus, they do cost anywhere between ¥150 and ¥300 per ticket, depending on where you go (when I was in Kyoto, the bus was ¥230 flat-rate for an adult). From my experience in Tokyo, Uber and taxis are both insanely expensive, so if you’re on a budget, I would use them as an ultimate last resort (e.g., if you’re going out and the metro closes for the night before you can get home).
  6. Maxi skirts might not be the best idea if you’re going on a lot of escalators. I never got hurt, but there were a few close calls with the hem almost getting caught in the track. If they wore skirts, most women I saw in Japan wore knee-length or mid-calf-length skirts—never maxi skirts, possibly for that reason. That would probably be your safest option, if you prefer skirts over trousers or jeans.

What would you want to read about my time in Chiang Mai? Is there anything else you want to know about my time in Japan? Let me know in the comments below! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, now that I’m in Thailand, I have to say “see you” in Thai—แล้วพบกันใหม่!

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