Six weeks after I arrived in China it was Spring Festival. I was to teach English for the following two semesters, but for now, it was now holiday time. The school management thought that I would be very bored during the holidays and suggested that I should take a trip somewhere. I was not so eager. Just days before I was due to leave, they gave me brochures about Hainan Island.
“I’ve lived on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland in Australia where there are beautiful beaches. Why would I want to visit beaches in China?” I asked them.
This created a stir that I could not understand (I later discovered that as the trip involved flying both there and back, they considered this a safe way for me to travel by myself). Right up until the last day, the trip was still being organized. The destination meant nothing to me, but it was to last for five days. I was to travel there by train and then fly back. Everyone went into worry mode; even the School Principal. He instructed to call my school minder every day. The lovely young man at the travel shop was very helpful, but he also joined the worry brigade. He sent one of the staff to accompany me onto the train in Shanghai, which was two hours away.
At the railway station I was taken to a private office where there was lots of discussion that turned out to be about me. I could see lots of worrying going on! Eventually I was given the phone to speak to my school minder.
“They have the wrong destination on the ticket.” She said
“Is it before or after my actual destination?”
“So what’s the problem? Surely I can get off OK”.
The worrying continued! We went for lunch returning two hours later. Once again, talk, talk, talk, and worry, worry, worry. What can be so bad that it takes so much talking? Eventually the phone was given to me.
“The train arrives at 4am; what if there’s no one there to meet you?” Asked my school minder.
“I will wait, OK. No problem!”
The girl from the travel shop accompanied me onto the train, spoke to the staff and got me settled. I was very happy to see her go.
The trip went without a hitch though the tour guide at my second destination seemed very anxious that I should not leave her sight. I later discovered that the young man at the travel agency had told her to take special care of me.
The evening before my return, the tour guide said she would take me to the train in the morning. Not to the airport as I expected. I was very happy with this news as trains are a much more interesting way to travel. As I would be returning a day later than planned I asked for a call to be made to my school minder to inform her. It took sometime to get an answer so we were nearly about to board the train when the tour guides phone rang.
“You are to return home tomorrow morning by plane” My guide told me.
I was so peeved. There was nothing I could do, but return to my boring hotel on the outskirts of the city. The guide told me not to leave it. I ignored her, but there was nothing interesting nearby and being new in China with no local information, I didn’t feel confident enough to venture very far.
Since this experience, I have always traveled by myself, making arrangements as I go. Travel in China is very safe and easy. I’ve never had a major problem even though I only speak a few basic words in Mandarin. At times of frustration and difficult communication, someone always materializes to help me out. Chinese people are incredibly kind.
Have you travelled on your own? Did you enjoy it or do you prefer company?