I’m sitting here in the dimly lit hospital waiting room surrounded by 3 dozen Chinese people all bundled in their poofy winter coats. No one is smiling, but there is plenty of yelling.
As Mandarin bounces across the room, I shiver and inch closer to my Swedish friend for a little more warmth. It’s 30 degrees inside the room because the Chinese government doesn’t allow the southern provinces to have heaters in the winter. Despite my 3 layers of pants, 4 long-sleeve shirts, a puffy coat, a hat and gloves, my Texan body cannot maintain any warmth. At least the cold dissipates any possible foul smells, and the lack of lighting hides the mysterious stains on the walls, sheets, and floors.
At this moment, all I can think about is home. Sunny, clean, warm, beautiful, English-speaking home.
We’ve been in Hubei, China for 5 days. My friend had a minor leg infection, and we’ve been battling Chinese hospitals, Chinese bureaucracy and Chinese language for a few days too long. It’s exhausting, you know. Traveling is utterly exhausting.
They don’t tell you the dirty side of traveling in the glamorous guides and TV shows.
People’s pictures on Facebook only reveal the smiling, brown children’s faces contrasted against their pale, sun-kissed American smiles. Their pictures don’t show you the hole-in-the-ground bathrooms these children use every day, or the crowded, unsanitary hospitals they have to go to when they’re sick.
The travel guides don’t tell you how exhausting it can be to not be able to communicate thoroughly to your doctor, landlord or professor, even after 2 years of language study. They don’t tell you how you’ll have to drop all personal boundaries and be pushed, stared at, and laughed at. They don’t explain how to handle the holidays alone, how to practice your religion alone, or how to entertain yourself alone.
No amount of travel blogs or articles could have prepared me for the homesickness and desire for the security, peace and happiness that comes from your home country, food, people and language.
But, no amount of travel advice could have prepared me for the true joy of travel either.
You can sit on your couch and watch the travel shows. You can see the beautiful landscapes on calendars, read books to learn about world history, search wikipedia to learn all the facts and culture.
But nothing, NOTHING can replace going, being, meeting and seeing in person.
I’m on the back of a friend’s motorbike, whizzing through the city. My hair blowing in tangles under my helmet. The humid, ocean air sticks to my skin. I look to my right and I see bulging mountains wrapped warmly in green trees and bushes in this tropical land. To my right, the bright, yellow orb in the sky hides under orange and red canopies and as it falls asleep behind the never-ending ocean horizon.
My friend’s dad hands me a red envelope, with some money, according to the Chinese New Year tradition. After I take off my shoes, I enter his grandma’s house for the much-anticipated New Year’s Eve meal where the whole family gathers together and eats, plays mahjong, eats some more, plays mahjong, and so on. The varied dishes, swimming in sauces, cover the table as each family member grabs a bowl and a pair of chopsticks and digs in. I eat the authentic, home-style food until I can eat no more. At night,all the young people go to the roof and play with sparklers and light fireworks over the quiet, Taiwanese town. Happy Chinese New Years!
Sweaty and already out of breath, we make it to the top of one of the thousands of guard towers on the crumbling wall. We can finally see over the tree line, and there it is. It slithers through the green, rolling country side of northern China on an exceptionally clear, autumn day. It seems to have had no plan or direction as it curves back and forth until it eventually disappears miles away. The Great Wall of China. It truly is a “wonder,” and it does make me wonder what life was like 700 years ago when all you had to do was build a 60 foot wall to keep away all your enemies, when surveillance meant midnight shifts looking through a 3 inch hole in a wall, and when communication meant traveling hundreds of miles and waiting weeks for a reply.
Traveling is exhausting, but it is one of the most rewarding experiences.
Traveling (especially for long periods of time) has some negative, unforeseen consequences, but seeing the world opens you up for so many feelings, thoughts and experiences that would have been impossible in the comfort of your own home.
Those little adventures and surprises are what make traveling worth it to me. The stories, the people, the experiences and the beautiful memories outweigh all the not so pleasant aspects of traveling.
So, my advice, just GO and DO!