Tag

wanderlust

Browsing

There is no alarm today. I wake slightly unnaturally to the construction of a new hotel across the road from my room. It doesn’t matter though. The day ahead is full. It’s my final day in this beautiful village of Xingping. Not only does that mean one more day to explore but it also means packing and preparing for my next adventure. In search of coffee and breakfast I begin my checklist of preparations. Forever nervous about missing a fight I plan to be at the airport with double the time required. So not to exhaust myself hiking is off the table. Instead I’m going to attempt to find my favorite fisherman again and discover the original part of Xingping village, the Old Street.

The escaping fisherman

Xingping it seems, often referred to as a village, has grown to become a quaint town. Full of charm set in one of the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen, this has been the most rewarding place I have traveled to thus far. From the traditional cormorant fishermen, the hikes to several villages and the openness of the locals to give a glimpse into their lives. It has also been my first opportunity to volunteer whilst traveling. A desire to travel more ethically inspired by the discovery of Workaway. A website that facilitates cultural exchange, with accommodation being offered in return for work. Although I intend to move towards causes that will have more of a positive affect on the lives of those I become entwined with, this has been a perfect platform to move on from.

Cormorants resting on bamboo

After packing my life back into a suitcase and ruck sack I head to the ferry ready to seek out the fisherman. As my feet land on the stones of the other side, I look back to the pier I have just left and glimpse my fisherman headed directly for it. It would seem the universe feels I have had my moment with him and so I laugh to myself and move towards the rivers walkway. Again taking to the stones it is not long before I come across a string of bamboo boats, half on land and half dancing on the water, the magnificent cormorant birds stand asleep.

resting cormorants

Cormorant fishing is a traditional ancient technique of using cormorants to fish in shallow river waters. The birds have a snare near the base of their throat to stop the swallowing of large fish but allows the consumption of small fish. Once a successful industry, cormorant fishing now serves mainly the tourism industry. During my visit, China is within its three month fishing ban to protect fisheries and ensure the industry’s sustainability. So although there are plenty of fisherman on the waters of the Li River they are mainly here to pose for eager tourists wanting a glimpse of this traditional fishing technique.

 

Stalls of Old Street

Returning on my regular ferry I reach the pier and follow the road down to a alley alive with tourists, cafes and stalls. I’ve entered Old Street, the ancient part of Xingping town. With all the charm of every old street found in China’s towns and cities I wander through its winding alleys, now and again glimpsing mountains through the ornate rooftops. There are more people here than any area I’ve explored despite its size. Before long I’ve reached the end of Old Streets alley and I’m back on the route to This Old Place Youth Hostel. This hotel has been my home for the last week and its staff have become more than people I work with. I will miss Xingping more than I could have imagined but it’s time to prepare for the next adventure.

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local basket weaver
Old street with mountain views
Old Street Alley
alley of Old Street

After five days of hiking I decided to have more of a relaxed day. My feet were starting to ache and I feared my legs would loose all momentum. I felt it worth revisiting Nine Horse Hill after utterly failing to recognize any of the nine ancient murals on the cliff face. As it is a route I’ve done before I take the Li River walkway to my destination. I follow the upper path back as it occurred to me after visiting the famous landscape printed on the back of the 20 yuan note I failed to take a picture. This time a 20 yuan note sits in my wallet waiting for its moment of glory.

sleeping cormorants

I take to the river stones rather than the paved walkway. Allowing their uneven firmness to slowly massage my feet. A type of remedial reflexology. This allows me to stay close to the water. I’m looking for the elder fisherman I passed yesterday hoping for an opportunity to recapture him but today I’m out of luck. However, I do stumble upon two sleeping cormorants on a grounded bamboo boat with its basket sitting still. The image is beautiful. The eyes of these magnificent birds are wide open but their beak stays nestled into their wings. Incredibly tame and unnerved by my presence, I glance around for their keeper and quietly move closer. In a flawless synchronized motion they raise their heads, a caution perhaps so I take a picture and leave them be.

rousing from slumber

There are several rustic boats floating alone on the water. Abandoned except for the few clothes that hang to dry. I’m unsure as to whether these are homes or vessels of temporary life for the boatmen out all day, transporting tourists on the motorized bamboo rafts to and from various scenic destinations. The surrounding landscape is alive with the sounds of birds hidden among the mountains. Combined with the gentle knocking of rocks under feet and the rippling water that trickles by there is a moment of pure tranquility. Of course a ferry full of tourists soon passes by and test their vocal cords in the echo of the mountains.

 

river rafts

Glancing with a frown at the ferry I spot another rusty house boat I wish to capture but it is at too far of a distance. I decide to cross at the ferry point again at Nine Horse Hill, something I had no intention of doing following my near disastrous hike that resulted in a friendly couple coming to my rescue and popping a tyre! Day 2 of my Xingping adventures for those of you who are curious! Across the river gives a better view of Nine Horse Hill anyway and will allow me to capture the charming if some what disheveled boat.

rustic abandoned boat

I stand opposite the sight of Nine Horse Hill. Straining my imagination past its usual creativity I fail again. There is not a single image that gives shape of a horse, to my eyes at least. For the second time I give in. I follow the narrow path to the left and settle on an image of the boat. Along the way I come across a horse grazing freely. The scene is perfect. Cautiously approaching I’m able to capture the beautiful animal with the back drop of Nine Horse Hill. In my opinion I have succeeded beyond my original pursuit. A second horse comes into view as I come around a corner. This one is attached to a chain and has a spirit slightly more wild than the other. Still, the image is too perfect not to capture and I draw closer slowly.

Nine Horse Hill

After a while of standing surrounded by this perfect vision of nature I capture the house boat hoping not to rouse any occupants. The ferry does its duty and I return to the other side. I’m disappointed not to see the helpful old woman with her sticky rice steaming away. This is the upper route that I’ve wandered before. The last time I was on this path it was full of stalls and tourists but today is much quieter. It’s how I prefer it. I’m always drawn more to villages and small towns for their gift of solitude. Xingping, although a popular destination, has offered many treks to surrounding villages where the only people I’ve met are the locals, always small in numbers and usually within trees!

horse of Nine Horse Hill

I finally come to the landscape that’s printed on the back of the 20 yuan note. The area lies between Xingping and Yucun. Unlike in the note, the Li River is void of a fishermen floating down the river with his faithful birds but is a stunning landscape regardless. Capturing the landscape with my 20 yuan note I feel very much the tourist. This is the last time I will take in this karst mountain landscape, from this view at least. These mountains haven’t failed to move me since my arrival. They hold an ethereal and evocative beauty that hasn’t been matched yet in my experience of this fascinating country. As the wind rises gently to bring a chill to the air I continue ‘home’ content again from the days roaming.

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charming rustic boat
wild horse views
20 yuan landscape

It’s 2pm. I’ve done my work for the day. I’ve eaten lunch and allowed time for the food to settle. I’ve decided upon a hike to a fishing village to satisfy today’s need for adventure. The air is sticky and the sun is beaming. I have a photograph on my phone of a picture map that sit’s at the reception desk of This Old Place Youth Hostel  where I’m volunteering. They promise me the destination is worth the journey. I pack my rucksack and head out of the hostel to start the day’s expedition.

fishing village map

Around 10 minutes in I become aware I don’t have my umbrella on me. There is no hint of rain, quite the opposite. The heat is overpowering and the absence of my umbrella for shade reminds me I also forgot sunblock. The weather in the south of China is unpredictable. I can be in jumpers and thermal leggings one minute and sweating in a light summer dress the next. Today it’s the latter. The sweating not the dress. This terrain is not suitable for a dress. The track is mainly dirt and rocks and at one point I feel as though I’m walking through a jungle.

The route starts by wandering through Pomelo plantations. Farmers are in the trees tending to the fruit, the blossoms shake to the ground around me as they chatter, pausing to peer through the branches at the foreigner who is quite unsure as to whether she is on private land or not. I trust the direction of the picture map and its simple instructions and push on avoiding eye contact in case I’m asked to turn around. It’s not long before the houses are replaced by open rural land enclosed in these mountains that I have already fallen in love with.

start of the route

The ground is all dirt and loose stones that slide inside my merrel sandals at every opportunity. These are the only shoes I’ve brought with me and they have got me this far. The sun is unforgiving and I can feel the sweat drip down my back and my skin becoming red under the intense heat. Most of the instructions are simple enough to follow. I get to one point though that absolutely throws me.

The picture shows two mountains and a single tree surrounded by rocks. There is a path to the left and one straight ahead. The arrow on the picture map is pointing to the far right at a “track” that seems unlikely to be the way. I decide in must have been careless digital editing and press on forward. There is an old man on the track to the left that is watching me like a hawk, completely expressionless. I decide that maybe he hasn’t seen a foreigner out this way and ignore it. 15 minutes later and I’ve hit a dead end. It appears that emotionless expression was most likely hiding the thought of “where does she think she’s going”.

mountains for miles

I turn and around. Still defying that far right arrow and take the left route. I reach the man and see that not far behind him there is also a dead end. I approach holding out my phone and begin the visual communication of expressive hand movements. It would seem that the unlikely “path” to the far right is in fact the route I need to take to reach my destination. Getting closer to this rocky pathway I realize there is a painted arrow in yellow on a rock. The same yellow arrow that has been photoshoped onto the photograph of the map. Feeling slightly ridiculous at my error of judgement I continue on.

Pomelo farmer

Lizards scatter around my feet. Branches force me to almost crawl through at certain points and the rocks make for an uneven climb. Just as I start to think this is an impossible route I pass a man with a stick across his shoulders with two buckets either side full of vegetables. We look just as shocked as each other to passing in such a place. This part of the route seems to last forever and I’m hoping the fishing village is worth the mosquito bites and injuries my toes are sustaining every time a rock fails to hold it’s place.

As the rocky path returns to a dirt track I’m able again to look up and the landscape opens. The view is spectacular. The mountains and trees are varying shades of green and I no longer care if the fishing village is worth seeing. This view alone has been worth every step. Turning the corner the mountains part and I’m now looking down on the Li River. This place is truly amazing. It’s like something out of an ancient hidden world and I feel humbled by being able to see it for myself.

Mountains and nature

Although satisfied in this moment it seems logical to continue on to the fishing village. It is after all my intended destination. I’m finally shaded from the sun by towering bamboo trees that start to close in around me. They creak as they sway in the wind and the sound is hypnotic. I’m almost waiting for monkeys to appear and start swinging over head. It’s not far now until I find myself entering this quaint little fishing village that I’ve walked two hours to see.

village views

By this point my face and chest are glowing red. I walk through the familiar stalls of trinkets to reach the waters edge. Immediately I’m being ushered over by a woman on a food stall. She gestures to a bench and moves her umbrella over it to give shade. I sit there for a while and do my best to explain I’ve walked here by myself from Xingping village. The woman and her friend look at each other and repeat my actions to confirm. I smile and get a big thumbs up. I purchase a shrimp and vegetable snack that resembles a pancake but on a stick and devour a cup of berries. It’s not long before a ferry of Chinese tourists appear. They flock to the stall and attempt to talk to me, the woman now speaking on my behalf. Many of them buy snacks and I feel her good dead has been rewarded.

route to the fishing village
fishing village entrance

Saying goodbye I venture into a maze of buildings that echo the tour guide and the ferry group of tourists. Deciding this must be worth seeing I follow the ringing sound of voices , navigating around the walls and secret gardens. I’m ushered into one building by a woman pointing to an internal wall. It appears former President Clinton was here some time ago and his picture is standing proud as evidence. I go up a narrow stair case and reach a rooftop with stunning views. It quickly becomes crowded and I’m losing light so I don’t linger much longer.

walls of the fishing village

Unfortunately the route back to Xingping is the exact same way that I’ve taken to reach the fishing village. Although incredibly beautiful it is always nice to have the opportunity to discover more of this amazing landscape. I arrive back. practically drenched with sweat and glowing red. I pass a market and buy a light summer dress and a baseball cap to hide my face. At dinner I’m famished and can’t help but look over the days photos. I have never felt more at peace as I do know wandering alone through this rural village discovering the beauty of China.

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alleys and secret gardens
amazing local woman of the fishing village
House visited by former President Clinton
Clinton and family with the locals

6:50am. I’m awake before my alarm, anxious that I may oversleep on my first day of work. I have company in my dorm. I rush to quiet my alarm and practically fall off the top bunk and stumble into the shower. Emerging with energy and a coffee sachet in hand I head to the kitchen for a quick breakfast. The hostel is split in two, today I’m over at the reception side. My hours are 8am to 12pm leaving me with ample time for lunch then off to explore. The work is simple, the people are lovely and the guests are interesting. For my first place volunteering I couldn’t have picked a better location or group of people to work with. After a conversation on where to explore, Gerda (English name) tells me of an offline app (MAPS.ME) I should use for a map with sight locations. This is where I discover Nine Horse Hill.

Li River views

A slow google search with temperamental VPN functionality shows me my intended destination. It appears the cliff face of Nine Horse Hill has a mural of a group of horses assuming various poses. These images have been present on the side of the mountain for centuries. Former President Clinton was able to identify all nine horses on his visit to the area and I intend to attempt the same. Although the advised view is from the Li River cruise but I am in the mood for a hike.

bamboo boats on the Li River

Leaving the hostel I turn around the corner following the Li River and crossing a beautiful bridge I photographed on my first evening. There are endless tuk tuks that stop to try and sway me in. The tour buses zoom past me at a confusing speed. Why are they rushing? The views are stunning and the weather perfect. I don’t understand why people wouldn’t walk. I see other foreigners who have rented ebikes. I don’t blame them, when I bought my ebike in Fuzhou it took maybe six months for the novelty to wear off. But today is a day for walking.

fishing birds

The streets are lined with markets selling their usual food and trinkets. The first view point though has something new. A woman with a stick across her shoulders where her two fishing birds sit. They are completely tame. They do not move even when children stroke them. People line up to pay for a photograph. I would love to see the birds in their true setting with the fishermen. I move onward. The views are captivating. This karst landscape is something that not that long ago I never thought I’d see for myself outside of ink paintings.

fruit picker

The villages I’m wandering through are full of curious eyes. The children stare wide eyed and the dogs are unsure of walking along side me. The smell of what I believe is jasmine is enhanced by the heat. The fragrance lingers in the wind sweetly. There are workers shaking the trees picking fruit and conversing with others who’s voices are the only sign of their presence, otherwise hidden by branches. Farmers are walking their cows through the street and many buildings seem abandoned or simply half constructed.

I reach a path that leads me to the water. My app is pointing further up to the right but I only see a narrow entrance behind a stall of street food. I pause debating. The elderly woman at the food stall ushers for me to sit on the stool beside her. I do this and there is an immediate realization that we will not understand each other. She pulls out a map and gestures for me to point out where I’m intending to go. I show her Nine Horse Hill and she points to the path that leads to the water. I show her my app and move my fingers to suggest walking higher up what, if you have an open mind, could be a path. At this point we are joined by several curious village men. The fun begins.

river view Nine Horses Hill

I understand the question of where I started my route. My fingers again move to gesture walking and I tell them Xingping. The woman uses her first English word and points to a building and almost shouts “Bus!” They laugh at me and shake their heads. After a little while of pointing and waving my phone showing the map the men begin to use their hands for gestures. The message is clear, the cliff is steep and if I try I will fall, their fingers show that I would no longer be able to walk and have to take the bus! I sit with the woman for a while eating some of her sticky rice. One of the gentlemen senses my disappointment and walks me along the river away from the mountains. We get to a point where the stones create a path out further into the water. He points to the cliff face of Nine Horse Hill and says “ok”.

Nine Horse Hill
Fishing Birds

This is the first time I realize I’ve actually reached my destination I was just at the wrong angle to see it. We wander back to the food stall and the woman is persisting I take the bus back. I point to the incoming ferry and say “boat” with a smile. She laughs and waves me off. The crossing is minimal and although the view is better I am unable to make out the mural of horses. I’m distracted by the near collision with another woman and her fishing birds. Rather than go back the way I came I use the app to find an alternative route back to Xingping. I have a 3hr hike ahead of me and it is already 4pm.

The start of the hike is similar to the earlier route. I wander through villages and become surrounded by the scent of jasmine. Losing sight of Nine Horse Hill I enter more rural landscape and the path opens to a dirt track with potholes that later become muddy pools when the sky opens up to sudden rain. My app is marvelous for the route but shows no indication of the terrain. It is quite the incline for the foreseeable future and light is fading as the rain strikes at intervals. I have the sudden memory of reading that the boats stop at 6:30pm. I can’t recall which boats the guide book was referring to. The ferries or the bamboo boats. Either way I panic and start to enter a jog as I wander how I will make up 30minutes on my hiking time.

rural karst landscape

The rain is heavy now and the road is becoming harder to tread. I haven’t decided if my energy was weakening or the steepness of the mountain was increasing with every step. A car passes. As I’m silently cursing their transport they stop shortly ahead. I pass and they offer me a poncho. With my umbrella standing proud I smile but decline. They drive on and seconds later pause again. This time they offer me a ride. I jump into the back seat before releasing my umbrella fully and manage to soak my lap. I don’t care though. I’m positively beaming. The driver speaks fairly good English but his wife doesn’t seem to. I show him my app and we climb upwards.

jasmine and mountains

I watch my app race ahead on the map. Then we stop. After a discussion with his wife the driver suggests we head back down the hill. I hold my phone up again saying that we are going the right way but it seems they need to go to Guilin. Ahead they know of a bus where I can go to Yangshuo and take another bus to Xingping. I don’t like this idea. He tells me this route was not the correct one for walking and asks why I don’t take the sensible option of returning to the ferry to walk the way I came. I give in. He offers to drive me to the boat. My heart sinks a little as we drive down the steep path I raced to climb. Suddenly we meet a bus on the road at a corner.

Dirt track hike

There is no way the bus will reverse and we don’t seem to be stopping. I’ve witnessed a huge amount of impatience when it comes to driving in China. I open my mouth to suggest we reverse but the bus defiantly moves forward narrowing further our path ahead. Clinging to the seat and holding my breath I feel the back tyre come off the road completely. The acceleration roars and we manage to get back on the road and I laugh more in disbelief than humor. My laughter is quickly silenced by that familiar sound of a flat tyre rolling along the road. The guilt hits my stomach and we exit the car to assess the damage.

Not quite knowing what to say at the situation I’ve essentially put them in the couple continue to give me walking directions and tell me not to worry. I walk on mentally willing good karma to find them and head back the exact way I came. The route has been seen but is no less beautiful. The ferry is full this time with children returning from school and I’m still unable to pick out the horses of Nine Horse Hill. I cross and pass the woman who smiles and says “no bus”. I’m starting to think the opposite by this point. Soaked from the rain and tired from my little adventure I climb into a little tuk tuk after walking half way and take in the view of the setting sun.

My second day has been wonderfully eventful, slightly nerve racking and yet full of lasting memories. I think I’m falling in love with this little village called Xingping.

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My favorite evening used to fall on a Friday. I would finish work at 5pm, grab some food with friends and head to a quaint little jazz bar to see in the morning. Since moving to China the evening awarded my favor is Sunday. Work ends at 5:30pm, someone in the office usually makes a suggestion for food or drinks, but as we next start work at 4pm on the following Wednesday some of us find ourselves straight in a taxi and off to the airport. This “weekends” destination: Shanghai.

The bells ringing, our boxes are down and we are out the door positively beaming! Our flight time is tight so we take a taxi to the eerily quiet airport, find Starbucks and for the first time actually discuss what we want to do in Shanghai. The trip was booked on impulse, Emma said we needed a break, I agreed, Ctrip did the rest. But in a place like Shanghai where do you start?

European architecture along the Bund

We have three nights but only two days. Shanghai offers an endless array of museums, art galleries, cultural sights and night life. The restaurants are as diverse as the people and the architecture makes it easy to forget you are in China. We arrive late at night looking slightly disheveled from the rain, the two young men at the hostel desk smile and offer us a double room for the same price as our booked dorm. I’m already in love with Shanghai. We stayed at Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel booked via Hostel World. It was perfect. Friendly service, hot showers, all the usual facilities and centrally located. We unpack, buy a bottle of wine and sleep.

Shanghai or London

We decided we are here for less of a tourist trip and more to relax in a different city from the one we currently call home (Fuzhou). We sleep in, chat to other guests from all over and head out in search for the Bund. It’s raining with a crisp chill in the air and a grey mist, but oddly enough it feels perfect. It’s been eight months since I’ve wandered down a street with such familiar European architecture. The beautifully adorned grey structures and bare trees that line the street almost had me convinced I was in London. The only deterrence to that possibility was the array of shop owners flocking to the streets to lay out their plants to drink in the rain, something I doubt I’ll ever witness in London!

It is not long before we reach the Bund. The magnificent waterfront reveals its grandeur through the grey mist making a silhouette of some of its buildings. It’s as though you are gazing at a museum of international architecture. The following night we found ourselves exploring the west side of the Bund, lit up in neon we discovered the different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque. As we wander along the Bund taking in our first symbol of Shanghai, a wave of nostalgia washes over me as I hear clock bells echo through the morning. A sound that was once so familiar to me having twice lived by a town clock now takes me by surprise. It is unusual what you miss about home when living in a country so different from your own.

Anren Jie

We continue along the Bund following the signs for the City of God temple that lies within Anren Jie. Suddenly you are taken out of the modern western blend of Shanghai and into an old town of classical Chinese architecture. Unavoidably so you encounter every possible trinket and souvenir any tourist could desire, admittedly I found myself purchasing a mahjong set that I hope to learn once I find three others keen to do the same in order to play. As soon as you are able to maneuver through the crowds you discover the jewel of this area: Yuyuan Garden. A famous classical garden with a history of over 400 years. The attractive garden is home to many pavilions, halls and ponds and if it wasn’t for its popularity it would be an extremely tranquil place to sit in silence and wonder at the scenery.

 

City of God temple

After enjoying the garden and temple we head in contrast for Nanjing Road to take in Shanghai’s shopping. The streets are bustling with fashion seekers undeterred by the rain. We find ourselves a new outfit and head back to the hostel to freshen up and reacquaint ourselves with the bottle of wine. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about hostels is the shared common area. It’s like being in an over-sized living room and for lone travelers becomes a haven for meeting others. We quickly make friends and head out for a drink. As its a Monday evening I cannot say we experienced Shanghai’s night life exactly but the bars are alive with fellow travelers and some welcoming locals.

Natural History Museum

The following morning is a lazy one. The weather has improved and we head out in search of coffee and a western style breakfast for a change. We become distracted by more shopping and breakfast turns into an Italian lunch in a charming restaurant with a view over the city. We discuss museums with the tightest time frame imaginable and I mistakenly order a smoothie that takes a lifetime to arrive. Jumping on the subway we make it to the Natural History Museum, or to its grounds at least! Not realizing ticket sales end long before closing we make the most out of the visit and explore the surrounding grounds. Fortunately the disappointment is recovered by the various sculptures that are on exhibit and the blue sky that has broken through the grey. The modern architecture of the area is also quite pleasing to admire.

 

Shanghai Shopping

It’s here that we decide to subway hop. Picking a random destination and letting the train do the rest we find ourselves on the west side of the Bund in awe of the various buildings, sculptures and monuments. The Bund should be explored both during the day and at night to be truly appreciated. Making our way back to the east side of the river we find a art deco style building with a sign for the recommended Captains Youth Hostel, known for it’s warm welcome to back packers and roof top bar with an amazing view of the Bund. We eat, drink cocktails and discuss the trip. We are both eager to return for a longer stay to take full advantage of Shanghai’s cultural hub, arts scene and night life. Two days is a taste of what Shanghai has to offer and we reluctantly return to our hostel to prepare for the return to Fuzhou.

Although fascinated by the cutural blend of Shanghai I would say it is a city that I will probably only ever visit. It doesn’t feel enough like living in China for me and although Fuzhou is also a city, I can feel a pull towards China’s more rural areas to deepen my appreciation for this countries ancient history and way of life. Forever a restless soul, I will listen to the wind to guide me through this chapter of my life and see what the future holds.

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City of God temple
Yuyuan Garden
Captains rooftop views

For those of you who have read Solo Beginnings, you will know that my first experience of solo travelling planted an irrevocable seed that grew with such fever, the long wait for another vacation was never going to satisfy these itchy feet of mine that find it impossible to stay rooted to the ground. The direction I found led me to obtaining a TEFL certificate, and the path I followed brought me to my first expat destination; China.

Apartment views

Admittedly, China was not my first choice. I longed for the beaches of Thailand but I couldn’t wait for the next hiring period of November. Staying true to my impulsive self, I looked for countries with an earlier start date and within a week had set up five interviews, four in China and one for Vietnam. Vietnam would have won me over if it wasn’t for the lack of confidence in the school after having the skype interview. And so China became my number one choice. The Schools were all in different provinces, I chose Fuzhou as it was described as a city surrounded by mountains. I am fortunate to also have a base here. My step mother’s family reside in Luoyuan, an hours bus journey from Fuzhou. And so here I am, an expat in Fuzhou, Fujian, China, since July 2016.

From accepting the teaching position in Fuzhou to moving to China was a six week time frame. I gave five weeks notice to my employer, moved out of my apartment in the North West of England, and ventured home to Wales to spend a week with the family and store the little I had decided to keep. I drifted through the majority of this time, feeling quite void. Preparing the paperwork, having the conversations with everyone about where I was going and what I would be doing, making all necessary arrangements. I completed everything that needed to be done but none of it felt very real, I was simply going through the motions of it all.

Community Gardens

The moments when my attention was focused solely on uprooting my entire life to a country I didn’t know, gave way to absolute panic. I think I experienced two panic attacks during this six week haze, once pulling myself together the numbness allowed me to continue with all the preparations. I don’t know how better to describe how I felt as I didn’t allow myself to dwell on the fact that this wasn’t a vacation, this was a new life. I wasn’t going to be a tourist this time. I was going to be an expat, in a country who’s language I couldn’t speak and who’s culture is very different from my own. The excitement didn’t really take hold until after I arrived in the city I would now call home.

My first two weeks were hectic to say the least! I needed to go to the hospital for a full medical check, including a psychological test to ensure my condition was satisfactory to become a resident. The first thing I was told was to look past the fact the hospital would not be as familiar in standard compared to a western hospital. Although efficient, I to give this advice to new comers. I also needed to report to the Public Security Bureau to obtain a residence permit. Again a slightly uncomfortable interaction. You sit there with a representative of your employer, not really understanding what’s going on while you and all your documents are analysed. There’s no guarantee of a yes. Another thing I quickly realized was that I’ve never handed my passport over so often and for great lengths of time as I have since being in China. Obviously always getting my passport back but feeling slightly uneasy nevertheless.

Exploring at night

Also on my to do list; Set up my bank account, buy a Chinese sim card (you need your passport for this also), figure out my bus route, master the art of chopsticks and realize that traffic can always turn right in Fuzhou regardless of the false security given by the little green man! Becoming familiar with my surroundings became interesting in my first week when I was able to experience my very first typhoon! The intense rainy season that coincides with China’s summer months was like nothing I had experienced before. The warm rain barely lifted the balmy heat that left a permanent layer of salty sweat on your skin. Skip to winter and prepare for a cold that the buildings here are not designed to cope with. If you’re lucky your air-conditioner will be able to produce heat but don’t rely on your room having the ability to retain that heat. All I can say is layers.

Once becoming slightly more accustomed to the heat I began exploring the local area. My spare time was familiar to what I would do back home, read in coffee shops and go out for lunch, except now I could also walk around temples daily and wander up small mountains to find locals practicing what I assume is a type of Tai Chi. Fuzhou is a fairly westernized city and so if you feel like a break from Chinese food there are plenty of western options. There is also a variety of dining to enjoy from other cultures available around the city. Its simply a case of wandering and discovering.

Dancing in the park

One past time here that is unfamiliar is the dancing. There are a variety of parks all around the city where the older generation gather to listen to music and dance. There are many different styles from traditional to ballroom, and not a single hesitation from all to stand and dance as though no one is watching. Its a very moving experience, to be granted an invitation to watch a joyful expression in motion. This just wouldn’t happen in the UK, you wouldn’t see it and if you did it would be sneered at and considered weird. It is these experiences which take you from feeling like an expat on the outside to becoming part of a community.

Of course you are quickly reminded that you are in fact an expat when you realize how you took for granted the simple things in life. Like asking how much to pay for anything, ordering a coffee and being able to request no sugar, or being able to ask the person next to you if you were on the right bus. The immediate loss of general communication isn’t something I’ve experienced so profoundly before. In Europe I’ve always got by knowing only English, China is not the same. I smile and point and hope for the best a lot of the time. I keep my address laminated in my wallet for those moments I find myself completely disorientated. And when it comes to food, I’ve stopped trying to guess what I’m eating and just chew and swallow. The language requires serious dedication, learning the tones and how to read pinyin, to moving on to characters is a challenge no other language has presented to me before.

Water Calligraphy

Considering there have been days I’ve barely spoken when out exploring solo, I have by no means felt invisible. Fuzhou is not a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong and Shanghai, many locals here haven’t seen or interacted with a foreigner and so there is an obvious curiosity surrounding the expat. My first time being filmed at a bus spot was an uncomfortable moment. I had become used to the staring and the random ‘Hellos’ that would be audible in many different directions, but being filmed felt like a violation and to be blunt, rude. Over time I have found it easier to ignore this and except that it is a curiosity and not an intention to be offensive. Besides it is mainly my height that draws the attention, my build and dark hair often allow me to blend in without being disturbed. Not so easy for my blonde friends I can assure you!

Exploring Fuzhou’s Temples

So far with all the ups and downs, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to call this ancient country, steeped in history my home for now. The locals I have met here, and the insight my family has been able to give me in the variety of lifestyles here in China is an enriching experience I will never forget. Moving to another country changes you. You move through the world differently, enlightened to the world outside of your individual life. I am further reassured that to stay in one place is a detrimental and conscious choice to stay ignorant to the world and it’s people, for me personally. It is not easy to leave everything you know behind, I am fortunate to have little ties and no responsibility that cannot be fulfilled from anywhere I choose to be. Although wanting to take everything I can from being in China, I am also looking forward to my next destination. Wanting to live life as a permanent expat calling the world home.

 

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Since I was a child I can remember feeling restless, my mother claimed I must have belonged to gypsies. My hair always unbrushed and often retaining leaves from moments of day dreaming about the future. Staring up at the clouds, drawing out images and watching their hypnotic movement. My feet often bare, unable to hide the image of my toes curling, clenching into the ground as my body stiffens to prevent a feral instinct to run. I’m never running away from anything other than my own inability to remain in one place.

As I have gotten older this feeling has only deepened. More aware of what is out there yet to be experienced, but burdened with the realization of the boundaries that are set. Running to a plane, a country, a hotel is not quite the same as running through an open field with only wild horses to witness that more simple pursuit of freedom. But how to keep exploring on the open road and avoid the bumpy old tracks familiar to trains? How to satisfy a desire to continually experience new cultures, countries and walks of life?

There are many factors that stack to create a wall to this future. Money being the top of the list! How will I afford transport, accommodation, food…? Confidence to do it alone is also dancing around the top. Can I really roam around Asia by myself? Won’t I get lost? Aren’t experiences better when shared? I don’t speak the language! Strangely enough another factor I’ve spent much time anxiously strewing over: What would I pack!? How much can I realistically carry? How to accommodate every season in one case?

With so many things to consider and organize its a wonder how I ever got started!! Now I’m on the right path the road ahead should be easy right? Wrong. Sure I’ve made steps in the right direction but there is still so much uncertainty surrounding the future. The reason for this post is to put down all the ideas in my head, collect the information gathered from researching and try to figure out my next move, if it helps anyone else in a similar position, prefect! So where to go from here? Perhaps firstly, where did I start…

China

While still in my former employment I decided on my first destination: China, Fuzhou of Fujian province to be exact. The first thing I considered was a health check and consultation into which vaccinations would be appropriate to get. This can be quite costly. For example, Hepatitis B is £120 with Rabies and again Japanese encephalitis reaching a cost of £190. After speaking with my soon to be employer I decided to get the higher cost vaccinations out in China for a fraction of the price.

STEP 1: UK Vaccinations. Hepatitis A & B, tetanus, polio, MMR, typhoid.

TO DO: China Vaccinations. Rabies, Japanese encephalitis, flu jab (flu jab = check, the other two, I’ll get on it)

The second thing I needed was insurance. My employer would be covering my insurance once I had received my residence permit, but this was a slow process following an interview at the embassy and transfer of my work visa. The last thing I wanted was to get sick or lose my luggage or worse! So I put this as an essential. I went with Outbacker who promotes itself as ‘Travel insurance for the young adventurer’. For £72 I was covered for trip cancellation, travel disruption, missed departure, medical, dental, lost or stolen possessions, and so much more for a total of two months.

Next I needed to have my degree notarized, a requirement for VISA purposes. A visit to local Notary and use of an agency to forward the documents to the Chinese Embassy reached a cost of £146. This was to be refunded by my employer soon after arrival but is an initial cost I had to take into consideration.

A tourist visa was also something I needed. Unfortunately there were delays in the notarized documents reaching my employer due to a holiday in China, leaving my documents sitting in the post office in Beijing, as far north of the intended destination as possible! Again, this was to be refunded but it doesn’t change the fact I had to account for it in my budget. This came to £151, ignoring the cost of the two trips to Manchester to obtain the Visa.

Moving on to flights. I flew from Manchester – Abu Dhabi – Hong Kong – Fuzhou. The total cost came to £460. Again, this is ignoring the cost of getting to the airport. My employer would cover the flight cost in two installments. 4000cny to be paid after six months and another 4000cny to be paid upon completing the years contract. A total of 8000cny which is roughly £936 is intended to cover the flight out to China along with the return flight home.

I DO WANT TO ADD THAT ALL THE FEES COVERED BY THE EMPLOYER ARE A BENEFIT TO COMPLETING THE YEAR CONTRACT. IF YOU LEAVE BEFORE COMPLETING 6 MONTHS, ALL FEES ARE TO BE PAID BACK. IF YOU LEAVE AFTER 6 MONTHS, HALF THE FEES ARE TO BE RETURNED. I’M CURRENTLY AT SEVEN MONTHS SO FINGERS CROSSED…..

So if we ignore the little extra costs of moving my belongings out of the apartment I rented and into my brothers attic, the train ticket to the airport, the international postal charges for sending documents, etc. We are looking at a cost of £949 (the little extras easily took this over the £1000 mark) before I even left home soil.

So for my next move, destination yet to be decided, and all future moves, the initial budget I will always want to start with is £1000. Add an extra £1000 for the first months cost of living before receiving a pay check and we’re already at £2000. Of course certain things will be payments I won’t have to make for sometime, like with vaccinations already covered, but you can guarantee with every new country there will be at least one recommended vaccination that I would rather have than face the consequences.

So the current ideas floating around my head are ‘how can I keep my costs down so that I can continue my dream of traveling the world?’ and ‘How can I make money while being location independant?’

My first destination of China has been a comfortable move. I have taken employment as an English teacher, the job comes with a furnished apartment and, as stated above, the majority of my fees being reimbursed. This is my first role teaching and I’m not 100% sold on the idea of doing this as a career long term. The experience is great and I’m acquiring new skills but I’m not convinced the role is a fit for me. The opportunity to teach English is worldwide, often with the same benefits as I have gained with my current company, York English . So there is no regrets at all in obtaining a TEFL certificate. I got mine while still in the UK and studied online. There are many options on how and who to get certified with. One thing you may want to consider is doing a TEFL internship in another country, you gain teaching experience while working towards being certified and you start your travelling from the get go! Just add another £1500 minimum to your budgeting plan.

Future

So where to go in the future? I still haven’t decided on my next destination. So far the top choices are Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bali or Columbia. All these countries offer a wide choice of English teaching jobs for various length contracts with added benefits, but do I necessarily want to teach full time again?  An alternative is to teach online, this way you can chose your own schedule and essentially work from anywhere with a good enough internet connection….BUT no benefits like a work visa and apartment.

Considering this alternative option got me looking at ways to budget for accommodation. Hello Workaway. This has opened up the world to me in a whole new way! In exchange for 3-5hours work 5 days a week, you receive free accommodation and in the majority or cases, food! This is in a wide variety of industries such as hospitality, catering, marketing, teaching, farming, etc. So not only are you getting accommodation you’re getting a cultural exchange and acquiring new skills that can forge a new career path, all while travelling! With so many hours spare in a day you can explore and teach online at your own schedule.

I haven’t really considered the hospitality industry before now. Although I enjoy stared hotels as much as anyone I’ve never felt a desire to work at one. Hostels on the other hand….I hadn’t experienced staying in a hostel until I came to China, Hong Kong’s Yesin being my first. Since then I have stayed in various hostels in a variety of cities in China and loved everything about it. Meeting people from all over the world, hearing guitars play in courtyards, finding a random yoga session in hallways, most of all…snuggling up to the resident cat! This is where Hostel Travel Jobs comes in. Similar to Workaway in that in return for working you get accommodation except its much more suited to long term stays in one area, so you can relax and explore a new city without worrying about moving every couple of weeks. Also a great way to meet a diverse group of people from all over the world, perfect for networking for future travel plans.

If neither of those sound appealing, there is always house sitting. Free accommodation, home comforts, short to long stays before moving onto explore again. Trusted House Sitters is one of the most reputable websites for house sitting and the locations are worldwide. This is also perfect if, like me, you are missing having the family dog around. The difference with house sitting is you aren’t acquiring any new skills or experience to benefit future job opportunities , and if teaching online doesn’t appeal what are the other options? Well it turns out, there are many!

With so many websites out there to offer your skills for a fee or to find home based employment, it was easier to just include a link to Forbes who have done the hard work already. This article highlights the growing number of people opting for working from home and the reality that there is a growing demand for this to be possible. If you’re looking for something slightly more unconventional start thinking outside of the box. For example, virtual bridesmaid. If ordering flowers and arranging hen parties is your thing there is a job out there for you.

Although I want to stick to that figure of £2000 as being a minimum before my next move, researching has given me a whole new insight into the possibilities out there for leading a location independent lifestyle. The main battle will be keeping productivity high. If you choose exotic surroundings, chances are you will easily become distracted or lazy. Self monitoring will be the biggest challenge but totally worth it in the long run. I have tried staying in one place to build a career and it hasn’t managed to satisfy these itchy feet of mine. So the only thing left to start the wheels in motion towards the future is to decide on the next location.

We’ve all either heard about or felt what it’s like to be in a bustling room of people and strangely feel quite alone. To be surrounded by chatter that fades into a dream like mumbling. This moment now belonged to me, in an airport lounge, silently debating if a holiday by myself was really the way I wanted to spend my 29th birthday.

Hungarian Parliament

Since I was 15yrs old I’ve imagined travelling the world. Living in an apartment in Paris spending my days in coffee shops and art galleries. Doing yoga on the beaches of Thailand and meditating in temples in Vietnam. Or hiking through the mountains of Canada to return to my cabin in the woods for the moments I need to go off grid and reconnect. As time passed these dreams have never left me but also never materialized. A sense of fear always surrounding the idea that to pursue this life alone could only be dangerous. I would become lost and helpless, lonely or simply run out of funds.

All of a sudden I was 28 and still talking about the life I wasn’t leading. Friends had taken the course of marriage, mortgage and motherhood and for me the route ahead had never changed, I had just not hit the road yet. Finally I had enough of myself, enough of fear tricking me into leading a life I had become quite bored of. And that’s how I found myself on my fourth coffee out of a paper cup, checking, yet again, that I had packed my passport and waterproof mascara!

St Stephen’s Basilica

The destination ahead was Budapest. I knew very little about the city but George Ezra had given it a touch of romanticism that was enough to convince me in a moment of impulse to book a ticket for my first 4 day solo city break. Four days completely alone with a pocket sized tour guide, a camera to be used mainly to create a picture map to aid my appalling sense of direction, and a suede skinned notebook to keep me company in coffee shops. This was to be my test; if I could do this alone, I could go anywhere alone.

Nevertheless nerves slowly turned to panic in the walkway tunnel from the airport to the plane. The usual polite conversation that is made when you are uncomfortably close to those as tired as you turned into a barrage of questions; why go alone? Do you know anyone there? What if you get lost? Finally a woman of maybe 60 turned to me and said she had wished she had had my courage in her youth, when time was on her side to explore all the endless possibilities life could offer if only she had the courage to take hold of them. A wave of conviction comforted me in that moment. I was doing exactly what I needed to do for the life I wanted to live.

Danube Fountain

Rain greeted me upon arrival, the sky was rather grey for September. All of this though seemed fitting. I had timed my trip to Budapest with Europe’s escalating migration crisis (Sep 2015). The Keleti train station had become the setting of quite a cold reception towards those searching for salvation. Although I wanted to document this historic moment, I concluded adding this experience to my first solo trip would perhaps be too much and so I regrettably arranged for a car. The driver spoke no English and I hadn’t thought to learn a word of Hungarian so we sat in silence for the hours drive to the apartment I had found on Airbnb, the idea of a hotel room housing only my carry on luggage seemed depressing.

The car pulled up to a beautiful square on the Pest side of the river. I was met with the warmest welcome ever experienced from a stranger. The woman whose apartment I would be calling home was Iren, she spoke Deutsch and English and had all the style and charisma of those city woman you see in old hollywood movies. I liked her immediately. As she helped with my luggage and guided me through the largest hallway I’d seen in an apartment building, the inevitable was asked while we squeezed into the not so large, very old questionable elevator; do you have a friend here? My answer gave way to the response I was beginning to become quite accustomed to. Her body froze in a way that I was unsure the lift was still moving! The moment she saw her panic reflected back in my eyes she smiled and gave her voice a rhythm of enthusiasm sung purely for my benefit. We were in the apartment for maybe 3 minutes discussing the WiFi code and which keys I needed when I was suddenly shuffled out of the door, back into the elevator and once again in to that beautiful square surrounded by stunning architecture.

Museum of Ethnography

It’s funny how differently people prioritize the essentials they feel we should know when becoming accustomed to a new environment. Iren was leading me to the best coffee shops and restaurants that wouldn’t overcharge me and to my nearest metro stop that would take me to Váci Street in downtown Budapest; where everyone simply must go for all their shopping. We parted with exchanges of phone numbers, her own and all the local emergency numbers just in case. But the more I was seeing of this stunning city bathed in history and culture, the more content and confident I was becoming in my choice to be here by myself, to be dictated to only by myself as to when I should get up and where I should go.

I briefly returned to the apartment to freshen up and gather my camera and notebook. It was early evening and music was now playing in the square, it was the perfect time to wander and get my bearings in this city that I was to spend the next few days exploring at my own leisure. The Solo Pursuit had began.

House of Terror

The Pest side is quite flat and I was in the heart of Budapest. Within 5 minutes of wandering from my apartment I fell upon St. Stephen’s Basilica, a stunning example of Neoclassical architecture that was a theater in the 18th century and hosted animal fights! It didn’t take long to realize that Budapest was home to some of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen, adorned inside and out.

A further 10 minutes of wandering and I found myself at the grand Hungarian Parliament building, around this area there are many memorials dedicated to the 1956 rebellion against Soviet control, but the one that compelled me the most stood opposite the Parliament building, a wall of bullet holes commemorating the victims of “Bloody Thursday”. This City is full of history and the House of Terror museum is also not one to miss for its moving exhibits.

A tremendous glimpse of the Buda side of the city can also be viewed from the Parliament building and it is a short walk along the Danube river before you find your self at the Chain Bridge, a cast iron suspension bridge that creates a link between East and West. But before I discover the older side of Buda I had more of Pest to explore.

Opposite the Hungarian Parliament building stands the Museum of Ethnography, it is one of the oldest institutions in Hungary. I was fortunate to visit during the World Press Photo exhibit that left me wandering the museum almost in a daze with silent tears rolling down my cheeks. The artifacts of Hungarian folk life followed and sent me in search of some lace and embroidery to take home for my niece. If museums aren’t for you I would still recommend visiting if only to take in the design of the building and magnificent paintings that are its ceilings.

Szechenyi Spa Baths

The Pest side is also where I recommend for window shopping, particularly around the Andrassy ut area. This avenue will also lead you to the House of Terror Museum, the State Opera House and Hero’s Square. One thing not to miss is a visit to the Szechenyi Spa Baths, one of the largest in Europe, a stunning Neo-baroque palace built in 1913. You can take a dip in one of the many medicinal natural hot spring waters or detox in saunas and steam rooms before plunging into an ice cold bath. If that’s not your thing there are several massage therapies and facial treatments you can enjoy. For those looking to really let their hair down I recommend looking at tickets for the night parties held in the thermal pools once a month!

Buda Castle

After two days of taking in the sights of Pest I wandered over the Chain Bridge to the more hilly side of Buda. I immediately discovered Buda castle, a breathtaking palace that is home to both the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. I wandered the grounds for nearly an hour and sat for almost as long listening to an old violinist playing notes carried in the wind. From here I followed behind a crowd of tourist looking for holy trinity square. This is how I spent the majority of the trip, wandering and hoping to cross off a good amount of sights on my list, little planning and navigation were involved. Although this meant I didn’t see everything, I saw enough to convince me that Budapest is a city to see more than once.

Matthias Church

The tourist group succeeded in its quest and recognizing the image of the Old Town Hall I realized we had reached the home of Matthias Church, built in the typical Gothic style, the once Mosque incorporates beautiful ceramic tiles in its construction that radiate a rainbow of color when kissed by the sun. Inside is even more wondrous in decoration, something I had come to expect in Budapest, the underground gallery housing many relics  and replicas of the Hungarian crown and coronation jewels. For me though, the terrace of Fisherman’s Bastion with it’s seven towers was the highlight of Buda, offering panoramic views of the Danube and home to a restaurant that hosted
a small live orchestra.

Fisherman’s Bastion

I only spent a day wandering the alleys of Buda but it was enough to see these two side of the city have very different personalities. Both having such distinct characters, I feel when I return to Budapest I could explore both sides as almost two separate trips. There is much left to absorb of this city and I’m captivated by what I have seen so far. One thing I did feel I missed out on as a solo traveler was the night life, particularly exploring the ruin bars. This isn’t to say as a lone female this is off limits, but as a first time single female traveler, I felt more comfortable sitting in the cafes and sampling the local dishes in the many fine restaurants than I did at the idea of moving from bar to bar following the gin and jazz. For my next visit, I will most likely stay in a hostel for the opportunity to meet others that I can join with for this part of the evening.

Hungarian Parliament by night

This uncertainty of drinking alone however did not stop me from taking in the beauty of Budapest by night, where the monuments light up and lovers roam the streets. Budapest is a perfect city to discover by foot and I felt safer wandering here at night than I have in many cities back in the UK. One thing to add is that as a single person comfortably roaming the streets you are often mistaken for a local and so avoid the usual attempts people may make to try and sell you various trinkets or tickets for events that do not exist.

My last day in Budapest was spent buying the usual souvenirs for friends and family and sipping coffee with a view of St Stephen’s Basilica. The sky was blue with only a slight chill to the wind. September was perfect for me, warm enough to pack light only requiring a few layers, and quiet from the return of the children to school. Upon finishing my birthday cheesecake I wrote a thank you card to leave for Iren and returned to the apartment for the last time; on this trip anyway. Usually at the end of a holiday I feel deflated not wanting to return to the 9-5 life, but this was different. I felt ready. Ready to go beyond a 4 day city break.

Sitting in the airport I connected to the WiFi and started researching how to make travel and earning an income coincide. I was astounded by the amount of available options, particularly for the technologically fluent, but where to start. A few days later I was home to Wales to visit family and give them their gifts from Budapest. It was a chance meeting with my first employer and her friend that set me on a new course. I signed up to gain a certificate as a TEFL teacher and a few months later completed the course and began the second round of research, where to relocate to! It only took a single trip by myself to find the courage necessary to make my life an adventure. And so here I am, on the solo pursuit to an extraordinary life.

You can find Iren here on Airbnb Hello Iren

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