After moving abroad in July 2014, I started compiling monthly roundup posts about life as an expat in Asia and all the nitty gritty that goes on behind the scenes here at Travel Lush. You can check out my previous monthly roundup posts: June, July and August.
Life has been such a whirlwind during the past two months that for the first time since I started the “This Expat Life” series way back when, I totally failed to write up a roundup post for the month of September. But because I’ve had a truly stellar past two months, I decided to just combine my September and October roundups into one extra-long post.
So what have I been up to the past two months? Well let’s get to it!
Wrapping up an epic summer in Bali
Man, Bali feels like a lifetime ago. That island has definitely become my home, away from home (away from home) in the past few years. And I am beyond grateful for the fact that I’ve been able to spend the past two summers there. But as wonderful as my recent three-month stint in Indonesia’s tropical paradise was, life back in Beijing beckoned. So on September 2, I hopped on a plane back to big, bad Beijing.
Adjusting to life back in China’s capital
Bali and Beijing could not be more different. And it is always odd going from one place to the other. But as drastically different as they are, it’s almost eerie how quickly I was able to shed my Bali ways and snap right back into life in Beijing. I swapped my bathing suit for my anti-pollution mask, my motorbike for the subway, healthy vegetarian bowls for delicious dumplings… no VPN for a VPN.
It was kinda like I never left.
Hosting one of my dearest college friends and acting like a true tourist
I was beyond excited when one of my favorite college friends told Aaron and me he’d decided to take an impromptu trip to Beijing. The last time we’d all seen each other was in Bangkok two years prior, so it was about time we all crossed paths again. Plus, it was entertaining peppering him with questions about what he thought of China and watching him take in all the madness. It made me realize just how different China is compared to any other country I’ve lived in.
One of the things I loved the most about hosting someone in Beijing for the first time is that I got to play tourist. Although I’ve managed to see quite a few major tourist attractions in the city, some of the big ones – namely the Great Wall – have managed to elude me. So this was the perfect excuse for me to finally plan that trip I’d been dying to take for years!
Coping with a sprained foot and visiting the international clinic
There was just one issue – I’d sprained my foot during my last week in Bali. By the time my friend had come into town, a couple weeks later, I was still walking with a limp and could not for the life of me bend my toes. I was seriously questioning whether or not I’d be able to hike the Great Wall in a week’s time.
I spent the first few days of my friend’s visit walking an insane number of kilometers and hobbling between Beijing’s most famous landmarks. And while I was having a blast, I was in a bit of pain and I knew that I was not only pushing it too hard but I was making things worse. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
In the end I decided to be responsible, fork out some money, and get an x-ray just to be sure nothing was really wrong. Because I don’t have health insurance that actually works in China I had to pay out of pocket. And because I don’t speak Chinese, I had to visit an international clinic. I found out the hard way that international clinics in China are EXPENSIVE. I should have just gotten an x-ray in Bali where they only cost like $20…
I ended up paying about $350 for two measly x-rays. The good news was that my foot was fine. Apparently these things just take an absurd amount of time to heal. (Honestly two months later and my toes still hurt really badly when I accidentally stub them on something!).
Anyway, I took the good news as the green light to finally hike the Great Wall.
My first trip to the “wild” Great Wall
One thing I didn’t love about hosting a friend is that I was relied upon to plan everything. Don’t take that the wrong way — I actually love planning people’s trips. But I’m probably the least knowledgeable Beijing expat ever. (Seriously I only speak six words of Chinese.) And I honestly don’t know this city as well as I should. So when it came to planning our visit to the Great Wall, I did what I do whenever I need to know anything about Beijing: I asked Richelle, the blogger behind Adventures Around Asia and knower of all things Beijing.
She suggested the Gubeikou section of the Wall because the hike is beautiful but not too touristy or challenging. So that’s where we went!
I will say that things started out a bit badly (at no fault of Richelle’s!): It was raining, we had no idea if we were hiking in the right direction, and we couldn’t actually find the Wall for a while. We were all super underwhelmed for the first hour, which made me feel so badly for blowing our big visit to the Wall.
But when we finally saw the Wall unfold in front of us we were all floored.
The Gubeikou section of the Great Wall exceeded my wildest expectations and we all came away from the experience with huge smiles on our faces. Plus, doing something like visiting the Great Wall with two people you’ve known for 17 years is nothing short of amazing. (A full post about my trip to the Great Wall will be coming soon!)
Heading back to California for my annual trip
The Great Wall was definitely the highlight of the month of September. But the highlight of October was my trip back home to California. One of the biggest challenges of this whole living abroad thing is being away from my family. And the longer I’m away, the more I feel this way. Life moves on for everyone back home, and it’s really tough not to be a part of everything that’s going on with the people I care about the most. So, with all this in mind, I made a vow to go back home once a year. This year I decided to head back for the first two weeks of October.
Basically everyone in China gets the first week of October off of work for China’s National Holiday. So at the very end of September Aaron and I both hopped on a plane bound for Los Angeles. We spent the first week visiting with his brothers and parents in his hometown of Ojai. We also hung out with some of our best friends and ate our fill of all things Mexican and dairy related.
After that we made our way down to my hometown of San Diego so we could visit with my family. An added bonus is that our trip coincided with my sister’s trip back home so it ended up being a little family reunion of sorts. Aaron had to come back to teach class in Beijing right after the holiday, but I extended my trip for an extra week so I could run a lot of errands, eat all the cheese, buy a ton of American products and foodstuffs to bring back to China, and spend some much-needed quality time with my parents (and my cat).
Honestly, it was harder than ever to tear myself away from my family this time. But I will say that my heart was filled by the fact that so many people took the time and effort to see me. Although my visits with everyone were far too short, they were still incredibly sweet. I got so much quality time with so many people. I’ve only been back in Beijing for a couple of weeks, but I’m already dreaming of my next trip back home!
I only have one tiny trip coming up: a quick jaunt over to Hong Kong in mid-November. I’ve only been there once before, for a 48-hour visa run, and I fell head-over-heels in love. This time around I’ll be on my own, which means I’ll spend the entire time wandering the streets and taking photos of what is an amazingly picturesque city (see above for proof). Oh, and I’ll probably do a fair amount of eating too.
I also have some big plans in the works for the winter… though I’m not quite ready to announce those yet. I’ll keep you guys in suspense for now!
Duh, of course my most popular photo was of the Great Wall. This is definitely my favorite photo of the past two months. This photo was taken in a crumbling watchtower at the Great Wall. But if you think the photo is pretty, I swear it was leaps and bounds more magical in person. When I glimpsed the wall snaking along the hills from this lookout I literally gave out an audible gasp.
After a year and a half of living in Beijing I FINALLY made it to the Great Wall. We opted to avoid the crowds and hike a wild (unrestored) section of the Wall (we went to the Gubeikou section of the Wall). To be honest, the whole thing started off a bit poorly. It was drizzling and kinda cold. We couldn’t communicate with the driver and had no idea where to hike. Once we figured it out, it was a bit underwhelming and strenuous for about an hour. But the second we finally emerged around a mountain and saw the Wall endlessly snaking through the hills in front of us we were all floored. We spent the day traipsing on the top of the Wall, clambering on watchtowers and gawking at the unreal landscape. And the best part was that we only saw three other hikers the entire time. It was unreal and surpassed my expectations. I’m so glad I finally made it out there and I’m now more motivated than ever to visit other sections of the Great Wall… because there are many and they all look amazing!
Beijing got a lotta love too!
The hutongs are one of my favorite things about Beijing. They’re basically traditional courtyard residences connected by super narrow and winding alleyways. Some have been refurbished and transformed into boutique shops and trendy restaurants. Others are a little rough around the edges and overgrown with plants. Either way, I love them. And getting lost in them, which is exactly what I was doing when I took this picture, is one of my favorite things.
So how did your September/October shape up?