Lessons from China

I wrote this several weeks ago while getting ready to leave China. I have thought long and hard about posting this but feel that it is part of our experience that should be shared. So far in our travels you have read a mix of our experiences in specific places, pointers on travelling there & places to go in each city. This is a different sort of post, this is a post that shares what I’ve learned about myself as well as some frustrations we found along the way, & how even with those frustrations how difficult it was to say goodbye. This is, in a way, a recap of our time in China & if you have ever traveled or will ever travel I’m sure this will resonate with you at some point & time.

Yangshuo Street Markets

After 3 months of living in a small Chinese village I’m great full for that time but am ready to go home. As I sit in a cafe exhausted from packing, planning, & goodbyes I can’t help but think of all the things we’ve done & seen here. We arrived with open hearts wanting to give anyway we could & build lasting friendships. We’re now leaving here out of shape, discouraged, & a bit annoyed. You see the air quality here is not any better in the countryside than in the cities & could actually be said to be worse as there is always something burning. With that being said when we got a cold after being here for a little over a week our bodies could not fight it off and finally after a month it got worse so that we each had 102 degree fevers that would not go away. It turned out to be pneumonia(more on our time in the hospital here). Once released it took us a few more weeks for our cough to go away but 2 months later we’ve still not fully recovered to our usual healthy selves.goodbyes 2

As triathletes we came with hopes of 2-a-day workouts & bought bikes when we got here. We got some use out of them but not near what we would have liked & running was out of the question.

Then came the issue of overall cleanliness. We were living in a small room with a traditional Chinese toilet & shared kitchenette(sink, fridge, & hot plate). In this overly humid environment it was nearly impossible to dry our clothes when we did laundry. And in the humidity random things began to develop mold. The kitchenette was difficult to use because hot water is a luxury item in this part of the world & so cleaning dishes was difficult & the people we shared with left dirty things around allowing mold to grow there as well. We made an attempt at cleaning by boiling items so we would have certain things to use, until we returned from being away for over 9 days & someone had left food & dirty dishes in the sink & allowed mold to grow across the counter tops. At that point we just stopped using anything there. The tap water is not drinkable but that’s all there is to shower in and it’s very hard water as water softeners also do not exist here. We each had areas that the water started to crack our skin or cause infection & washing our hair more than 1-2x per week was out of the question as it caused it to be stringy and feel gross.goodbyes 5

As frustrating and difficult as those things are for a short time can be over looked and dealt with as best as possible if we’re being effective in our purpose here, but unfortunately that wasn’t happening either. I was supposed to be assisting with marketing for an English academy, but I only had access to their social media items and they refused to attempt an improvement on their website(which was atrocious & cluttered) but wanted “informative”posts to social media. Essentially they asked me to do a job they were not prepared to give me the materials to do. Then because they know I have illustration, design, & photography abilities they asked me to do a few big projects. I was excited about the projects but had to spend my own time to do them because they would again not provide the materials to do them & expected me to be on their computer for my “contracted hours” instead of being productive on my own computer that had all the materials to do what they asked. I’ve never felt so useless! We made many attempts as others had to explain these things but they’ve been brain washed to not be able to think for themselves so our suggestions were ignored.

So now as we end our time here I am looking back to see what we’ve learned in this time.

  • I need to be doing good or helping people to be ok with any position I’m in, Volunteer or paid.

  • I will go above & beyond if it’s appreciated & not expected & if they’re willing to take the advice asked for.

  • I don’t follow well. I will gladly serve but I can’t blindly follow.

  • People are self-centered & don’t notice or care what’s happening around them.

  • Traveling alone is completely different from traveling with someone and those differences need to be accounted for.

  • Always travel with at least 1 nice outfit!

  • Learn to be ok with being stared at & pushed around if in Asia.

  • Always try to take at least one recipe home.

  • Relationships don’t require the same language to communicate.

  • When someone says “You don’t want to go there, there’s nothing there.” That’s exactly where we want to be!

  • It is a necessity to learn basic ways to sanitize and function without our typical daily amenities.

  • Don’t assume you can buy anything. (It took us a month just to find socks.)


Even considering everything good, bad, & neutral, when time came to leave it was incredibly difficult to go. You see, outside of the company where we volunteered we formed relationships with people who became like family. Some were other expats while others didn’t speak any English. They welcomed us with open arms & broad smiles (often giggling at our muddled attempt at Chinese, but that opened the door to communication). All of our language acquition is thanks to these bonds we found in the most unlikely of places. We were filled with chocked up tears and hugs as we said goodbye till next time. goodbyes

We have learned many things about ourselves & the world in the few months we spent in China. Time since we left is flying by and it feels like it was a world ago when we were there. The longer we’re gone the more nastalgic I’m getting over our time there. If I could go back would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I might do things a bit different with the knowledge I gained but I would definately do it all over. Will we go back? Yes we would love to return again in the future, we have much more we’d like to see especially Tibet & the place where they filmed Avatar. It would also be great to get to see friends we made along the way again! There are relationships we built that I will miss greatly especially because they did not speak English & our broken Chinese is not strong enough to keep contact through email or snail mail. I do hope that until we meet again that I might be able to get a package or two through to them & that those who can continue contact from abroad do so.

Aloha until next time. If you’d like to view or purchase photos or photo products from our travels please visit our website at Oehler Photography &/or send us an email with inquiries to oehlerphotography@gmail.com

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