Why I Had to Leave China

Image of a small American flag. In the background is the ocean.

So, I had to leave China.

I’m back in the United States, and for good now.

This is much earlier than I’d originally planned–the plan had been to stay for a year then reevaluate whether I wanted to stay on for another year–, but I had to come back for health reasons that just couldn’t wait any longer.

Simply put, I became very, very ill over in China, and due to my rapidly degrading condition, my doctors all recommended that I come back to the States for treatment ASAP. It was a slow decline that gradually snowballed out of control. First it was difficult for me to eat certain foods, then I would need to rest more than other people or take the odd painkiller here and there, until suddenly I couldn’t eat at all, I couldn’t walk around for more than five minutes at a time, and was in such pain I couldn’t sleep for stretches of days. The only way I was able to endure teaching during those last few days was by using my breaks to cry in a secluded corner and/or discreetly find a place to vomit.

I resisted and persisted until my body quite literally couldn’t function any more. My work wanted me to tough it out, and I felt intense loyalty to my students and coworkers. My doctors however informed me that, if I didn’t leave now, things could get worse, to where my life may be in real jeopardy. At the time they even felt one of my organs might need to come out, (which it still might; they’re keeping an eye on it if/until things worsen again), which, frankly, scared me straight. On top of my pre-existing health issues, there was a very real possibility that I was putting myself in harm’s way.

So, I caved. I gave in. I kissed my dreams of travel and completing my contract and collecting that sweet, sweet end-of-contract bonus goodbye, and left China. And I’m glad I did.

Yes, I only lived in China for about 6 months, half of what I originally intended. But I’m alive, and I’m recovering, and I’m beginning to find normalcy in my life once again.

Some people have asked me if I’ll return to finish my contract in China, but I won’t be. I simply can’t go back for so long again without putting my health at serious risk. The combination of environmental factors have too great an effect on my health, and to do so would be risky at best. That, plus I was largely treated like absolute garbage by at least 80% of the people I encountered there, from stalking to slurs  (“foreign devil” was my favorite) to people literally trying to steal pieces of my hair and/or grope me.

So I think it’s easy to understand why I’m not abundantly eager to return anytime soon.

I’m still upset that I was unable to leave on my own terms and my own timetable. But, all considered, I’m lucky I had a safety net I could fall into, and lucky I left in time. This entire ordeal has made me reconsider my goals in life, but right now my top priority is getting better. And I’ve been recovering slowly but surely.

I’ll keep everyone updated, but please be patient with me as I begin getting back into the swing of things. I’m happy to be back at it!

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A Week in Hong Kong

 

When I initially booked my trip to Hong Kong, it was just some spot on the map to broaden my horizons, a place to visit then check off the list. But I had no idea just what I was in for.

Put simply, Hong Kong blew me away.

But why? Well settle in, because here I’m going to tell you what I saw, did, and loved so dearly in Hong Kong.

Day 1: Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, Victoria Harbor

For y first full day in the city, I went to Lantau Island, where after a both enthralling and terrifying cable car ride I arrived at Ngong Ping, home to the Po Lin monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. Po Lin is a buddhist monastery, founded in 1906. With beautiful architecture and a deeply reverent atmosphere, it was a little oasis away from the mega-city just one island over.

Po Lin monastery.
Po Lin monastery.

The Tian Tan buddha, one of the world’s largest outdoor bronze buddha statues, is an extension of the monastery, and can be see from as far away as Macau on a bright day. Coming to the top for the view alone is worth it. (Plus, up here I got to try my first ever egg tart, and I instantly fell in love. I think I ate almost 30 in the 6 days I was there, and I still want more.)

The Tian Tan buddha.
The Tian Tan buddha.

Once I got back to where I was staying around Tsim Sha Tsui, I walked along Victoria Harbor, saw a particularly awesome street performers, ate yet more snacks (yes, including egg tart), and watched the sun set. Victoria Harbor is really where Hong Kong began to steal my heart. The abundance of life, the city skyline contrasting with the mountains and ocean, the romantic atmosphere, the food, all of it culminated into a really beautiful scene. And it was only my first day here!

Victoria Harbor.
Victoria Harbor.

Day 2: Macau’s Ruins of St. Paul, Monte Fort, and A-Ma Temple

On the second day of my travels, I went over on a day trip to Macau with zero idea of what to expect. Macau isn’t really a place I’d researched much beforehand, but dang, I am SO glad that I went. After driving around and seeing some of the skyline, I hopped off near the historic city center where a ton of cultural sites were. Considering that Macau is only 11.8 sq miles large, (or 30.5 sq kilometers for my reasonable, non-metric friends), there’s a very dense concentration of history here.

Directions in the city center of Macau.
Directions in the city center of Macau.

I made my way to St. Dominic’s square, got a snack or two, and took in the scenery.  It’s a place very thoroughly Chinese, but also definitely retaining colonial influences, a city that is new and sparkling, but also ancient. These things all blended together in beautiful harmony, not clashing or begging for attention, but there to be seen all the same. Nearby I visited both the Ruins of St. Paul Cathedral and Monte Fort.

Ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

After another jaunt on the bus, I got off in the old city to see A-Ma temple. A-Ma temple is a huge deal, and in so many ways. Right on the shoreline, this is thought to be where the Portuguese first disembarked in 1513, the first Europeans ever to make contact with China by sea. In the native language, the name of this temple is Maā Gǒk and thus, the Portuguese called it Macau. 

A-Ma temple.
A-Ma temple.

Even though I hadn’t seen everything, I’d had a fun-filled day, and eventually headed back to Hong Kong.

Day 3: Flower Market, Victoria’s Peak

By day three, I’d made friends with another woman staying in my hostel, and we get some warm breakfast drinks and egg waffles together. I tried the ceylon milk tea, but the real star was Mammy Pancake. I’ve heard about Mammy Pancake for years now, and, even though it’s a street food stand, this place has been Michelin recognized for three years in a row now. I got multiple egg waffles while I was in Hong Kong, crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside, and each one was somehow more delicious than the last.

Eating a green tea chocolate chip egg waffle.
Eating a green tea chocolate chip egg waffle.

After this, we went to peruse the local flower markets. I’d seen flower sellers before, but the sheer size here blew my mind. This wasn’t just a street, or even an entire block, but multiple blocks of flowers, bamboo, succulents, and everything else spilling out into the streets in an array of color and smells. We spent a good amount of the day doing this, so it was already starting to get dark by the time I went on my next adventure to Victoria Peak. I have no words to say about Victoria Peak that would do it justice. Only experiencing it for yourself could ever convey the absolute majesty it holds. It was truly a wonderful way to end the day. 

The view from Victoria Peak at night.
The view from Victoria Peak at night.

Day 4: Man Mo Temple, New Year Parade

The next morning, I took the historic Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island, where things had become very crowded since it was officially the first day of the Lunar New Year. After fighting against the crowds I  made it to Man Mo temple. As is to be expected, the temple was PACKED, being a major holiday, and people want to honor their ancestors, pray for good luck, and start the year out on the right foot. 

Offerings at Man Mo temple.
Offerings at Man Mo temple.

It was already getting late by the time I left, so I went back to my hostel to nap in preparation for the New Years parade. I woke up from that ready to fight a crowd of people probably larger than my entire home town, but all in all though, the whole crowd got to see some interesting acts, cute balloon floats, and just some generally weird performances, but by far the Lion and Dragon dancers stole the entire show. It was simply beautiful and fun and the perfect end to a rich holiday.

Day 5: Ladies Market, Hong Kong Park, Sky100

The next day,  I toured around the Ladies Market off Tung Choi street, but didn’t buy anything since I’m not much of a shopper. I just like to take in the sights and sounds of a new place, y’know? Afterwards, I decided to try out the local park, easily one of the most beautiful green spaces I’ve ever seen. At the entrance there was a gushing water feature you could stand under, little streams lined with flowers, and yet more fountains.There was also an aviary, waterfalls, a tea house, and a sizable pond for koi and carp, peaceful and warm in the winter sunlight.

Hong Kong Park.
Hong Kong Park.

After watching the Symphony of Lights, a nightly light show put on in Victoria Harbor, I went up to the Sky100, the 100th floor of the International Commerce Center, to get yet another view of Hong Kong. I simply couldn’t get enough of that skyline!

The view of Victoria Harbor from the Sky100.
The view of Victoria Harbor from the Sky100.

Day 6: Bus Tour, Stanley and Aberdeen area

For my last day I bought a ticket for the Big Bus, a bus with three lines all over Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which I figured would be a good way to see parts of the city I hadn’t yet gotten the opportunity to go to. After the Kowloon line, I took a ferry across to Hong Kong Island and got on the line to Stanley and Aberdeen. On our way we toured the glitzy finance and commerce district, and eventually made our way to the south side of the island, where you could see relatively undisturbed ocean, beaches full of people, and so on. 

 

All in all, Hong Kong was amazing, and as soon as I returned home I already wanted to go back. There the modern and the classical harmonized together, the rich Chinese heritage paired with western influences made for mouth-watering food and breathtaking sights, all of that and more has earned Hong Kong a special place in my heart, and I’m confident that I will be going back again and again.

 

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Nanhu Park

The first time I went to Nanhu park, I was astonished.

The parks I’d been accustomed to back home were nowhere near as scenic nor bustling with activity. They were more like patches of grass and a couple of trees, maybe a bench or basketball hoop at most. But at 2.2 square kilometers, Nanhu park is huge–and gorgeous. There you can see a beautiful lake, trees, gardens, etc. It truly has so much to offer! 

A chair-sled…thing. I asked at least 6 native Mandarin speakers what these were called, but no one could give me an answer!

In the summer it’s verdant and lush, but wintertime (when I shot this video) is beautiful as well. And there’s plenty to do. Ice-fishing, skating, sledding, people on these chair-skating-contraptions (I’m really not sure what else to call them) and hockey, are just part of what Nanhu has to offer. Depending on the time of year, you can see an abundance of ice and snow sculptures too.

Though winters can be difficult here, being so cold and with little sunlight, there’s a certain beauty to it that I’ve really found myself appreciating. I can’t wait to see this place thaw into the green of spring, and I can’t wait to share more of China with you. 

What is your favorite park you’ve ever been to? Why? Leave a comment below!
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The Most Embarrassing Things I’ve Done Abroad

Traveling abroad is a wonderful, soul-stirring adventure–but it can also lead to some big embarrassment!

And let me tell you, I’ve experienced my fair share of just that.

From accidentally throwing an old man’s lunch into the ocean, to unknowingly propositioning a fellow university student, join me in laughing at the abundant mistakes I’ve made while traveling abroad.

 

What embarrassing things have you done while traveling? How’d it turn out? Comment below and spark a conversation!

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Weekend in Las Vegas

From July 7th through the 9th, I was in Las Vegas! It was a weekend trip, put together by my loving boyfriend as a birthday + graduation gift to me. Watch the video above to see the different places we visited (plus all of the mouth-watering food we ate), and below I’ll give you the names and details–plus a few additional photos.

Day 1

We left for Vegas at around 3 in the afternoon, and, with a brief layover in Denver, CO, made it in at around 6PM. (Thank you, time zones!) For this evening, we mostly walked the strip and settled into our hotel, The Monte Carlo, so we could prepare for the excitement of tomorrow!

Highlights: Sleep. 

 

Day 2

When we woke up, Vegas was still sleeping off last night’s hangover, leaving us to take advantage of the relative quietude to see the city! The shopping here was insane, from Gucci to Louis Vuitton to Prada to Tiffany’s, so . . . yeah, I’m going to assume people drop some major cash here. We spent a good portion of the day window-shopping, admiring bizarre artwork, and so forth.

For us though, it’s all about that food life! After going to the Nathan Burton Comedy Magic Show (a great value for the price, and no, I’m not being paid to say that!), we got ready to dine at Prime, a steakhouse within a literal arm’s reach from the Bellagio fountains. I’m not sure if it was the ambience, my handsome date, or what, but let me say this loud and clear: that was the best steak of my life. And I’m from Texas. I know steak.

Sweet lord, this steak left me weak at the knees.

Later on that evening, I gambled for the first time via slot machine just to say I’d done it, and ended up winning $50 bucks! I cashed out immediately, because otherwise, well, that’s how they get ya. Stay smart, kids.

One of the many beautiful sights we saw. This glasswork was located inside the Bellagio hotel.

Highlights: The filet at Prime Steakhouse; the Bellagio fountains; seeing the Chihuly glass ceiling. 

 

Day 3

Poolside view.

We woke up early to go swimming at the Mandalay Bay pools, both their wave pool and their lazy river, to work up a sufficient appetite for the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace. And boy, am I glad we did.

 

One of five plates I ate. (I’m all for that carb life.)

Because oh. My god. That was the most unreal buffet I’d ever been to. Crab legs, ramen, dim sum, red velvet pancakes, french fruit tartlets, and so on. If you’re going to go to a brunch in Vegas, I highly recommend this one. Our flight left relatively soon after, so that was largely our only activity for the day, but it was worth it 100 times over!

Highlights: Bacchanal Buffet.

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All in all, we had an amazing time in Las Vegas, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a weekend get-away. It was the perfect amount of time, too–in all honesty, I’m not sure what else we would have done if we’d stayed longer.

Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Have you ever gone on any other out-of-state weekend trips? Leave a comment below and tell me about your adventure!

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