Living Abroad …..Why I Sometimes Get Mad at America

Living Abroad …..Why I Sometimes Get Mad at America

First, I love my country and I’m proud to be an American, most of the time.  That being said, “sometimes I get mad at America” and I’m not talking about the political climate.  Second, life abroad isn’t always sunshine and roses.  Sometimes, I get mad at China too…..remember when I couldn’t log on to Facebook or use google because my VPN was down or that time I was sick and only had a squatty potty or when my government controlled heat wasn’t working in December.  But this isn’t about why I sometimes get mad at China. I’ll save that for another time.

I have lived in a communist country and traveled much of this part of the world for the better part of nearly 4 years.  Every single day when I log on to to Facebook, watch a YouTube video, save a recipe on Pinterest, look something up on google, use google translate or like today as I write my blog that says, “sometimes I get mad at America, I am reminded of and thankful for my basic freedoms as an American.  Most of the people I know in China, do not have access to these sites and don’t even know what Pinterest is, let alone anyone dares say, “sometimes I get mad at China”.  So, why does this make me mad at America? I see us as a country abusing our freedoms.  Freedoms that our ancestors fought to give us.  I believe in our freedoms, but let’s take freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech has brought us “fake news”.  Fake news that many, myself included, have passed on as factual and thus snowballing. Yes, I know fake news isn’t just an American problem, but shouldn’t we be above this? Shouldn’t we use our freedom of speech in a more positive way? Just recently in China, an article came out saying China had shut down base camp at Mount Everest to tourists because of litter and abuse of the area.  Saddened, as I had spent one of my most amazing journeys at EBC, I reposted the article.  A few days later, I found out the article was “fake news”.  China had closed base camp to tourists, but not for the reasons stated in the original article.  The article also informed me that the government had shut down over 100,000 websites and deleted over 500,000 articles that were deemed fake.  Can you imagine this happening in the US?  No!  Yet, we continue to abuse our freedom of speech and it makes me angry. This is just one example of our lack of respect for our freedoms.

The “Ugly American”, unfortunately, I have witnessed this.  Americans abroad who don’t respect another culture, who think everyone in the world should speak English.  To quote Clifton Fadiman, “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable.  It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”  What is so difficult about learning one simple word, a word of greeting in the land you are visiting?  Granted, my Chinese language skills leave much to be desired, but I try learning simple greetings and phrases.  I try to do this prior to traveling to any country on my journey. I have a phrase I “pinned”, it states, “I’m a survivalist, I can ask for coffee in six languages”.


Then there is the ugly American who loudly exclaims, “Oh my god, we would never eat that in America”, or “why can’t you speak English, or “the health department would shut this place down”, or “they don’t even have proper toilets here”, etc.  I have witnessed them all. No, Americans abroad aren’t the only “ugly” tourists, I have witnessed Chinese tourists in Paris pushing and shoving, talking loudly, etc., but I’m not Chinese, I’m American and don’t like seeing Americans behaving badly.  It makes me angry when we as Americans disrespect another culture.  When foreigners come to our shores, we expect them to have some basic knowledge of English and respect our customs.  Let’s do the same when we visit theirs and let’s be more accepting of foreigners when they visit ours.

My wardrobe

We as Americans are materialistic.  I get angry at myself when I think about how much “shit” I have in storage in the US.  Life abroad certainly teaches you to live simply or more simply than you would in America.  Which makes me mad at myself again, when I think about what I have acquired in 2 years in Dong’e.  I have more clothes than all the teachers at my kindergarten put together and they all fit in one wardrobe and a couple sets of drawers.  How do I know this?  I felt guilty when I had a group of my co-workers over and they went on and on about how much “stuff” I had.

More of “My Stuff”


Even though I think I live simply compared to being in America, it is still not as simple as most in Dong’e.  Simple for me is a manual washing machine.  I fill it by a valve, turn it on and when the wash cycle is finished, I turn a knob to drain and repeat the process.  When I think my clothes have been washed and rinsed enough, I drain and then transfer the sopping clothes to the other side which is a spinner.  I spin the clothes in batches and then hang to dry as I have no dryer.  To me this is living simply, to others, it is a luxury.  I had a woman and her daughter staying with me when I first arrived. She was new in town, single mom, working for Peter.  He asked if she could stay with me until she found a place.  After all, I do have 3 bedrooms.   Until I showed her how to use my “washing machine”, she washed all of their clothes by hand and wrung them out by hand.  I guess you could say that is living simply.  In the states, I have a car to jump into whenever I want, here, I had a scooter, lately, I have had my 2 feet.  Although I will have my scooter back at some point, I have learned to manage without.  Not only do I get angry at America for being materialistic, but I also get angry at myself.  Living abroad and traveling you realize how much stuff you don’t need.

My Washer
Wash Section and Spin Section

I’m just going to touch on this next thing briefly….healthcare.  After a few experiences with healthcare in China, it makes me angry about healthcare in America.  We are overmedicated, overcharged for services, drug costs are outrageous, we have an opioid crisis, and insurance costs are inflated.  When I sprained my ankle here in China, I eventually went to the hospital where I had an MRI and x-rays, I saw 3 doctors and had a consultation with an orthopedic specialist….total bill without insurance…$75.  I’m not sure I could see one doctor in America for even an office visit without insurance for $75 let alone an MRI or x-ray.  After a few visits to the local hospital, including one extended stay, I question healthcare in America.  Enough said.

Dr. Alex, My Back Surgeon

What has happened to random acts of kindness?  I just read a Facebook post from a friend who was unhappy, maybe even angry about the fact that it was “freezing outside” as she drove by a walker.  She was upset because she was afraid to pull over and offer a ride.  They would most likely be as afraid of her as she was of them. It bothered her that we, as a culture, as Americans, have lost trust in our fellow man.  It too makes me angry that we have so much violence and hate in America that random acts of kindness of this type just don’t happen because it isn’t safe.  Sure, people pay for the coffee of the car behind them in a drive-thru or donate to a “go fund me”….it’s safe and it makes you feel good, but when was the last time you had a face to face encounter with a complete stranger?  They are few and far between.  Living in a country that has strict gun laws, strict drug laws and a low incidence of violent crime, I have had several opportunities to experience random acts of kindness.  You can read about one here.

My Aperol Spritz To Go

What got me started on this whole, “sometimes I get mad at America” idea was after I told the following story to a friend in Warren.  I was in Phuket.  Every day I walked, or my host family took me by motorcycle to Surin Beach.  I would spend my days getting a massage, walking the beach, stopping for lunch and a cocktail, sometimes taking the cocktail and sitting on the beach after lunch.  Then I would stroll to a bar/restaurant just off the beach and chat with the staff and enjoy happy hour until sunset.  The first evening as I was leaving to head back to the beach, the young lady behind the bar asked if I wanted to take a drink with me while I walked to the beach and enjoy it during sunset.  With uncertainty, I replied, “it’s okay to walk down the street with a drink?” She kind of looked at me funny and said, “of course.”  I explained to her that except for certain restricted areas, it isn’t allowed in the United States.  So began my nightly ritual…beach…bar…..drink to go…sunset.  The more I thought about it, it made me a little mad.  In Thailand, I can get a drink and walk down the street….in China, I can take a bottle of wine and sit by the lake….in Paris, I can take a bottle of wine to any park or sit with my friends on the steps of the Sacre Coeur and watch sunset while enjoying a glass of champagne.  In all of these situations and more I haven’t mentioned, I have never witnessed drunk and disorderly people, no fights and most everyone picks up after themselves.  I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be nice, when I’m living in downtown Warren to sit in Courthouse Park on a warm summer evening or a crisp autumn night with friends and enjoy some adult beverages and a few laughs.  But no……there might be a drunken brawl. As I was telling her my random thoughts, she said I should write about it.

Attending a Balinese Hindu Ceremony

So, there you have it, sometimes I do get mad at America.  I don’t intend this to come off as an angry post, because 99% of the time I’m just a happy go lucky American girl who happens to live in China for the moment. There’s nothing like getting off your plane after a year or more abroad and seeing the American flag and hearing the immigration officials say, “welcome home”.  I can’t change America or the world with my blog posts, but I can share my thoughts and experiences, good and bad.  I can share a smile with a stranger.  I can continue to learn to live more simply.  I can check my sources before passing on “fake news”.  I can worship in a Buddhist temple, attend a Hindu ceremony or visit a mosque because I have freedom of religion.  I can make my voice heard by exercising my right to vote, even from afar.  I can tell people in this part of the world that despite what they hear about mass shootings, police brutality, the opioid/drug crisis, etc., I really do live in one of the greatest countries in the world. I can tell them that I love my country and I am proud to be an American.  But most importantly, I can show them.  Another thing my father always told us, “actions speak louder than words”.


Fear as a Solo Female Traveler?

Fear as a Solo Female Traveler?

From the time he found out he would be a father, my dad always said I was going to be a girl and he was happy to have a female as his firstborn.  Although, now don’t all you feminists get your panties in a wad, he raised me like a boy.  He taught me to play baseball, took me to work with him and showed me how to pound nails, cut 2 x 4’s and lay shingles.  He wanted me to be tough and fearless but made sure I understood how to be ladylike at the same time.  He often quoted FDR from his inaugural address saying, “the only thing you have to fear is fear itself”.  As a kid, I didn’t understand what this meant.  According to Miriam Webster, fear is an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by the anticipation or awareness of danger. The definition didn’t help me understand the quote.  E-notes tells me that “FDR used this phrase to motivate American society to remain hopeful instead of giving up. If we become too afraid, we then allow others to control us and we no longer have control of our own lives.  FDR wanted to inspire Americans to respond to a bad situation by doing something positive and not allowing their fears to keep them from reacting at all”.  I guess my dad wanted to motivate me to reach for my dreams and not to let fear of the unknown hold me back,  that I was strong enough to control my destiny.

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In August of this year, I will have spent most of the last 5 years living outside of the United States.  I spent just over 6 months living in Paris and the remainder of the time in various cities in China.  As you can imagine, I get asked a lot of questions, not just from strangers, but family and friends alike.  One of the questions, when people find out I am living/traveling solo, is, “don’t you get lonely?”  Well, I addressed that in my last blog, “The Highs and Lows of Solo Travel.  You can read it here.  The other question I get asked quite frequently is, “aren’t you afraid?”  Simply put, no, not really, but I think I need to expand on that “no”.  Insert a singing Doris Day here, I tend to have a “que sera sera” attitude, but there are some things I should worry about or fear.  Let’s start with safety, that falls under something to cause fear, right?

With Teri in London
In Paris

I have a dear friend, yes, you Teri, who worries about my safety.  She often reminds me that I am not always “careful”.  Maybe often is an understatement, every time I travel, she reminds me. She is right about that and tells me not to let my guard down.  Its become a sort of a joke between us. A joke I need to take seriously.

Living in Paris, I regularly walked home from the Seine back to Montmartre alone, late at night, often near midnight.  Of course, machine gun-toting police are often seen all over Paris and that made me feel safe.  Now, after living in China for so long, it does become easy to let your guard down.  From 2012 to 2017, the Chinese government reported an 81.3% drop in gun crimes from 311 to 58.  Of course, China has strict gun laws and it is illegal for a private citizen to own a gun.  But, according to government statistics, police also confiscated 146,000 guns in 2018.  This just means that I don’t really fear violent crime, not just gun crime, in China.  Besides living abroad, I frequently travel to other countries in this part of the world.  During my travels/living abroad, I can honestly say I only once remember having a feeling of real fear……Paris, New Year’s Eve, 2014.  My friend Patty and I decided to brave the crowds and go near the Arc de Triomphe and Trocadero with a view of the Tour Eiffel for midnight.  Pam decided to stay back at the hotel.  Midnight is drawing near, I had a phone in each hand and was snapping photos as the clock struck and the fireworks went off.  Patty let out a scream, my eyes started to burn, and the crowds were running in all directions.  I honestly can’t tell you if I dropped my phones or someone grabbed them, but I lost them both.  Patty took a direct hit in the face with tear gas that someone had set off in the crowd.  Fear of being trampled set in and I knew we had to get out in the open.  Guiding Patty, we managed to find a policeman who directed us to an ambulance that was on the scene.  Thankfully, she ended up with no permanent damage to her eyes and other than 2 lost phones everything turned out ok in the end.

The picture I took at midnight just before the tear gas incident


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Security in Paris











Other than that, there has been a couple of times I couldn’t locate my passport.  Talk about fear, that was major panic mode!!










Of course, when arriving in a new country/city, I do try to make myself aware of my surroundings and usually inquire at my homestay or hotel as to whether there are any areas as a solo female I should avoid.  As far as crime, the worst thing that concerns me is petty crime, pickpockets, grab and run, etc.  Oh, and shady taxi drivers who constantly try to rip off foreigners.  To hopefully avoid petty theft, I usually wear little or no jewelry.  My bag is usually a crossbody which makes it more difficult for a grab and run.  Luckily in most countries on this side of the planet, especially China, paying with your cell phone is normal and therefore I don’t carry a lot of cash.  But there is more to safety than the crime.

Fear of injury…….In most Asian countries, traffic can be a nightmare.  Scooters, cars, bicycles all zooming around traffic circles and through intersections. Just crossing the street in Saigon you feel as if you are taking your life in your hands.  Basically, you just hold your arm out and walk, the traffic will slow down (a bit) and go around you.  It is also a good idea to look for locals crossing and walk with them.  Sidewalks or I should say lack of, can be a problem.  Many of the SE Asian countries, Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, etc. lack sidewalks.  I often like to walk from my homestays to places of interest versus renting a scooter because I can see more this way.  That being said, you often must walk on the road.  This can at first seem a daunting task, but I’ve gotten used to it.  Ahhh, scooters… greatest fear with scooters was in countries where they drive on “the wrong side” of the road.  No offense to my friends in those countries, but I am a bit worried about riding on “the wrong” side should I decide to rent one.  I guess I should have had a fear of parked cars when riding a scooter.  Sure enough, in my own town, Dong’e, where we drive on “the right side” of the road (most of the time), I was “hit” by a parked car door and that’s how “I Survived a Chinese Hospital” and a broken back.  It was the perfect storm.

Taken while on the back of a motor scooter in Saigon.


Food safety…..never ever drink the water.  Bottled water is cheap and plentiful.  If buying from a street vendor or somewhere off the beaten path, check to make sure the seal hasn’t been broken.  Occasionally water bottles are refilled and resold.  If you buy a beverage in a can, wipe off the top or use a straw.  Cans are often left in areas where rodents and other animals walk on them, pee and poop on them…you get the idea.   Be wary of ice, most of the time I avoid it.  No one likes street food more than I do.  Be cautious, be observant.  Look for the vendor that has a good turnover, where the food hasn’t been sitting out.  I have been bitten by the food poisoning bug a few times, it’s not pleasant.  Food safety is a concern albeit, a small one.

Street Food



Fear of becoming unwell…..In my bag, I usually have liquid bandage for small cuts, Advil and other first aid supplies.  Before leaving the US, I had any shots my doctor deemed necessary.  I also asked for an antibiotic to take with me, just in case.  Not knowing what other health items would be available, I brought antacids, anti-diarrheal, OTC cold medicine, Neosporin, etc.  Luckily, other than a couple colds a those few bouts with food poisoning, I haven’t experienced being unwell.

Fear of natural disasters…..My last trip to Bali was shortly after a major earthquake had killed hundreds on the neighboring island of Lombok.  While I was in Ubud, I experienced several days of tremors that woke me in the middle of the night because the bed was shaking so much.  Natural disasters, I have no control over, so nothing to fear, right?


Fear of language barriers….fear of the food….fear of the religion……fear of cultural differences……I personally don’t consider these fears but more paranoia.  If a person has these fears/paranoia, most likely they won’t be traveling out of their comfort zone.  These are things I embrace as I live and travel abroad.  They are things I can’t wait to experience, that help me grow.

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I have discovered the world is full of kind and caring people.  Many are willing to help, comfort, assist and befriend a stranger.  I say again, no, for the most part, I am not afraid of being alone in foreign countries.  I will always have some concerns and a few worries but that is natural.  I try to carry myself with confidence, become aware of my surroundings and take precautions when necessary.  I have the smart traveler app and am enrolled in the STEP Program.  The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service that allows US Citizens living or traveling abroad to receive the latest security updates from the nearest Embassy or Consulate.  Plan ahead, be aware, take precautionary measures, research your location and ask the locals questions.  Also, I make sure someone, usually my brother, knows my itinerary right down to the details….flight times and airline, address and phone number where I am staying.  I check in periodically with a text and a selfie.  Being the social media whore, I am, I’m fairly certain if I dropped off Facebook for too long someone would become concerned about my safety.  Don’t let fear hold you back from exploring this amazing place we call Earth.

Confession… biggest fear… biggest fear is that I won’t have time to see and do everything on my travel bucket list.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.  Thanks, dad and mom, for raising an independent female who isn’t afraid to chase her dream and for giving me a brother who supports me in all of my craziness.



Brother and Sister

The Highs and Lows of Solo Travel

The Highs and Lows of Solo Travel

My mother always told me my wanderlust began August 13, 1962.  I was born in Kimbrough Army Hospital, Fort Meade, Maryland on August 11, 1962.  As a result of a jeep accident that left my father in a coma for weeks in January of that year, not even knowing he was going to be a father, he received a medical discharge on August 13th.  My parents packed up their newborn, without a name, except “female Marvin” and took me on my first road trip of 350 miles to the place I would call home, Warren, Ohio.

Fast track to 2019…..I have now spent the better part of the last 5 years living abroad.  First, in Paris from August 2014 until February 2015 and when I decided I needed to continue my travels/living abroad, I moved to China in August 2015.  I haven’t looked back and I feel it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. That being said, most everyone, including myself, talks of all the great things about international travel and living….all the “highs”.  I’ve taken mad scooter rides through the back streets of Saigon; attended the Royal Funeral of the Queen Mum; climbed the Great Wall of China and stood where it ends at the Bohai Sea; slept on the rooftop of the world, Mount Everest Base Camp; dined at the Captain’s table on massive cruise ships; found a person from my hometown in a tiny village in rural China; ridden a camel in the Gobi Desert; and visited Angor Wat.  I’ve visited 34 countries of the world and if you count territories belonging to other countries, such as Puerto Rico, Aruba, and Tibet, that number jumps to 43.  I’ve experienced Christmas through the eyes of a child in a communist country.  I’ve prayed in Buddhist Temples and witnessed exhuming of a body for a Hindu cremation or Ngaben Ceremony in Bali.

As “high” as you can get.  The rooftop of the world EBC. Photo by Jan

The “highs”…. I could go on and on because that’s what everyone wants to hear about, right? Or, maybe, if I’m honest, because that’s the story I want to tell.  But, what about the “lows”?  I know I sometimes go on and on with all the happy, happy, everything is great bullshit, but for me, that is my coping mechanism, because yes, sometimes there are “lows”.  In most instances, attitude really can improve a “low”. I’m not saying it can make it a “high”, far from it, but it can help you through that period.

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So, what are the lows of solo travel?  I was going to start with the biggest low of my journey, but I think I am going to start with the time I felt most alone.  I arrived in Beijing, a day before the other recruits in August of 2015.  The first thing I noticed was that I was given a private room.  All the other rooms in the dorm had 2 names on the doors.  I thought maybe many people came with friends or I was just the odd man out and luck of the draw I got the private room.  At this point, I wasn’t too concerned, but the next day everyone else starting arriving. Jane told me they figured since most everyone else was on their gap year between high school and university they thought since I was older, I wouldn’t want to share a room with one of the “kids”. Ok, I felt old and alone and I had to spend the next 2 weeks with these “kids”.  I kept to myself for a while, but that’s not really my style.  I don’t remember the circumstances, but somehow, we (a group of 6 or 8) ended up on a search for alcohol and snacks.  I’m sure you can imagine me on this quest.  For the rest of the time we were together, I spent most evenings in someone’s dorm room, laughing, drinking, singing and dancing.  It was another low when at the end of 2 weeks we all got our teaching assignments and had to say goodbye, most likely never seeing each other again.  It was amazing the bond that was formed in 2 short weeks.  I’m happy to say I do communicate with many of that original group.  But, I have never felt that alone as I did when I first arrived.  I learned that people will accept you for who you are no matter your age, looks, race, or religion.  You discover that those who pack up and move abroad without knowing anyone usually have a similar mindset as yourself.

Those “kids” in Beijing

Other lows I have experienced traveling…. sometimes your heart hurts.  After spending 5 months with 2 lovely roommates in the tiny village of Xiashan, China and with the entire staff of an all Chinese primary school, you have to say goodbye.  You know all along this day would come, but your heart still hurts.  Deep down you know you will most likely never see these people again.

Li Zi Han aka “fish lips”

What about Li Zi Han, aka “fish lips”, that little girl in grade one who made up to me on my first day in the classroom.  She wanted to be a dancer.  What has become of her and will she follow her dream?  What about the little girl who didn’t have crayons and I gave her a box?  When she finally got her own, she returned mine. Will she grow up to be a kind and caring young lady?

One of my naughty boys

What about the naughty boys in grade two who always tried to see what they could get away with? Will they grow up to be doctors or lawyers?  What about the charming Frenchman I spent much time with during my last few weeks in Paris.  The one that showed me “his” Paris…..the Paris off the beaten path, the smoky cafes, the paper cups of wine while we walked the streets late at night as he walked me home.  I had to say goodbye to friends who were like family in Changning, Hunan.  All my friends, teachers and students at the kindergarten in Qingdao.

My sweet Marlon

My sweet Marlon, yes, I still have contact, but it’s not the same.  My bestie in Qingdao, Erwin, oh how I miss him and our antics. Will I see him again now that he has moved to Norway?   Goodbyes, when you travel, are most often lows.  Yes, sometimes your heart hurts.  Having spent 2 years now in Dong’e, I am not looking forward to the goodbyes that await me at the end of this school year.

My bestie in China, Erwin




Sometimes your heart hurts, but not because you are saying goodbye.  Those nights you are trying to fall asleep, but you know your best friend back home, home as in hometown, is struggling and you can’t be there to share a glass of wine, a good cry, a laugh, and a hug.  That night you are all alone in your apartment and have a little cry because you know your brother is receiving an award and you won’t be there.  You know he understands but he’s the closest family you have left and it gets you down.


My brother before the award ceremony



Then there are the lows that you will look back on laugh.  That time in Changning I drank a little too much, imagine that.  That wasn’t the low, because it wasn’t the first time and certainly not the last.  The low is when you are sick for 3 days and only have a squatty potty.  I think I remember saying “I hate you China, why can’t you have normal toilets”?

That time I drank too much and was sick for 3 days

Then there are the times you feel sorry for yourself lows.  The time I returned to Xiashan, my roommates were gone, most all my Chinese friends were home with their families for Chinese New Year and I got the flu.  The sneezing, sniffling, achy head, fever, I can’t breath kind of flu and there is no one to take care of you.  You can start to feel sorry for yourself.  Those times you are traveling with too much luggage because you are coming or going from the USA and you get to the train station and no elevator, no escalator or the escalator isn’t working so you must lug your suitcases up and down stairs.  China, why?  That time I agreed to go home with one of my Chinese co-workers to visit her family for several days in a February.  When we arrived in a very rural village, I learned I was staying in a home with no running water.  Her mother heated water from a pump outside over a gas fire and filled a washbasin each morning for us to bathe. Her bedroom had no heat and the toilet was a hole in the ground outside.  Really, I’m 50 something years old, I’m sleeping with no heat, now I’m going to have to find my way in the dark and go outside to pee in the middle of the night.  What did I get myself in to?  I will admit, after first feeling sorry for myself, it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences in China.

How we bathed when I stayed with my friend at her home in the countryside

Since I see I am getting a bit long winded here, I will wrap it up with the biggest low of my journey… broken back.  You never think you will end up in a hospital, halfway around the world, 24+ hours travel time from your family and friends.  You can read about it here.  I had wonderful care. I survived and am on the road to normality.  If I am honest with you and myself, this was tough for me.  When I was finally able to reach my brother, between MRI’s, x-rays, doctors, etc., it was the middle of the night his time. I put on a brave front as I told him I was in the hospital, injured bad and would probably need surgery.  Trust me, it took everything I had not to bust out into tears.  Then he spoke with the doctor and other than my tests being sent to doctors in the USA for review and confirmation, it was agreed I would have back surgery the next day.  The doctor put Mark back on the phone, he asked me if I needed him and Lori to come to China.  Although it would have been nice, it would serve no purpose other than being there for emotional support for me.  It would also more than likely be 2 days before he would even arrive in Dong’e.  Holding back the tears I told him no.  The next hardest part for me was when I was wheeled into surgery and about to be put under and I realized I hadn’t talked to him to say I love you.  I wasn’t scared or worried, but somewhere in the back of your mind is always that “what if I don’t make it”.  Obviously I “made it”, but those few seconds before I went out, I was very sad.  I spent the next two weeks post-surgery confined to a hospital bed.  Then for about 6 weeks after I was home, it was a struggle.  I had plenty of help and caregivers, but it was easy to fall into “why me?”.  This is where attitude played an important role. Every day I looked for something good, some improvement anything to make me happy and to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  This period was the toughest for me emotionally since I have been abroad.

As I stated in the beginning, choosing to travel and live abroad has been one of the best most rewarding decisions I have made.  A life of travel isn’t always a bed of roses.  I think it is even more difficult as a solo traveler and a female.  Yes, I have felt alone.  Yes, I have had my heart hurt. Yes, I have felt sorry for myself. Yes, I have missed my friends and family in the states.  No, I wouldn’t change a thing.

“My confession is I fall in love with so many places I’m always half broken-hearted by goodbyes. And I don’t believe in non-attachment.  There’s no passion inside of that.  I believe in burning and longing.  And I believe we leave tiny pieces of ourselves in every placed we’ve loved.”  ~ Victoria Erickson


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About China and Some Things You Didn’t

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About China and Some Things You Didn’t


China, Zhōngguó, PRC, the Middle Kingdom, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people…..1 in 5 people in the world is Chinese……it’s the place I currently call home. 

Living in China for going on 4 years, I am expecting my first visitor from the USA.  I decided a blog of some essential things you should know, some fun things, some bizarre things and some things you really didn’t want to know should be my next topic.  So, Debbie, this blog is dedicated to you. 

First and foremost, you need a Visa to enter China.  To obtain this Visa, you need a letter of invitation from a Chinese citizen or a complete itinerary including flights and hotels confirmations for every city you plan to visit during your stay.  You can apply for a Visa through a 3rd party agency or take it to the Chinese Embassy in your home country along with all the necessary documents and of course money.

You have your Visa in your hot little hands, now what?  Before leaving your home country, it is a good idea to download a few apps for your smartphone.  If you plan to use Facebook, Instagram or any Google apps, you will need to download a VPN or Virtual Private Network as these, and many other apps/websites are banned in China. VPN’s can be difficult to download after you arrive in China.  It is also advisable to download a translation app.  Google Translate and Dear Translate powered by Youdau are two I use.  Wēixìn or WeChat as it is known in English is a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app. It is China’s app for everything and was named by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful apps.  These are the top 3 apps I recommend you download before you arrive in China.

Although it is becoming more widely used, most Chinese speak little to no English.  Learn a few words before you come and remember “Chinese” is not a language.  There are between 7 and 10 language groups in China with Mandarin being spoken by about 30% of the population.  It was designated the official language of China in 1913.  It is also known as Pǔtōnghuà which literally means common tongue or common speech.  Under these 7 to 10 language groups there are many dialects that fall into each group.  Under Mandarin alone, there are 8 sub-groups, with 48 different dialects.  It’s no wonder it is such a difficult language to learn without even getting into the tones.  Cantonese is another of the language groups that most people are familiar with.  Learning a few words, hello or nǐ hǎo (knee how), goodbye or zàijiàn (zi ji en) and thank you or xièxiè (shay shay) are 3 to get you started.  It’s also a good idea to learn basic numbers. This is especially important when dealing with taxi drivers and bargaining for items. 

Water or shuǐ (schway) or specifically rè shuǐ or hot water becomes somewhat of a joke with westerners, but I’ll address that in a minute.  First and foremost, DO NOT DRINK TAP WATER IN CHINA!!   The locals don’t even drink the water.  Bottled water is readily available and cheap.  A sixteen-ounce bottle usually sells for about 2 rmb or $.30.  A five-liter bottle sells for between $1.50 and $2.00.  It’s not a problem brushing your teeth with tap water, just don’t guzzle a big swig.  Ok, back to “rè shuǐ”…..forget about getting bīng shuǐ (ice water) and you will be hard pressed to even find lěngshuǐ (cold water).  You may get room temperature water but be prepared to get hot water everywhere.  The first thing they will bring you in a Chinese restaurant is hot water or hot tea, even if it is in the heat of summer.  The Chinese believe hot water is beneficial for your health.  It does become a joke…. the “hot water cures everything”.  If you say you are getting a cold, the answer is, “drink more hot water”.  I have a headache, “drink more hot water”.  Even recovering from back surgery, my caregiver kept telling me, “drink more hot water”, you must keep your back warm, and so on, you get the picture.  Just be prepared to drink hot water.  You will get used to it.









Now that you have consumed all that hot water……bathrooms in China….be prepared for the dreaded “squatty potty”.  You will have to use them….there is no avoiding them.  Although, I have a few tips for finding western toilets in airports and train stations.  Look for the handicap sign, most often they will have a western toilet.  Most hotels and upscale restaurants in bigger cities will also have western toilets.  Other than that, work those squat muscles. When I lived in Hunan Province my apartment only had a squatty potty.  About toilets, restrooms in China do not provide toilet paper.  Always carry your own.  Some may have a dispenser inside the restroom at the door, but not often. Always carry your own, I can’t emphasize that enough.  In some of the larger cities, they now have a TP dispenser at the restroom which uses facial recognition technology.  You get your allotted amount and can’t get more for a certain period of time.  Always carry your own!!!!  This is useful for restaurants also, always carry your own not only for restroom visits, but many restaurants do not provide napkins.  Before I close out the topic of toilets, Chinese children wear split pants while being potty trained.  This way, when nature calls, they can just squat and go.  Don’t be surprised if you see a parent holding a small child over a trash can to poop.





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Etiquette…..don’t expect it to be the same as in the west.  Chinese people are naturally loud.  I guess with 1.4 billion people you need to be loud to make yourself heard.  They may appear to be arguing. They are probably just having a normal conversation using outside voices.  Queues, they don’t exist. If you are in line and let any space open, be prepared for someone to go in front of you. Every man for himself, I kid you not.  There is no such thing as personal space.  Don’t be surprised by spitting, burping and farting in public.  If you hear a big old haaawwwwkkkk, be prepared to see someone spit, it could be man, woman, or a little old grandma type.  People spit, that’s all I can say.  Don’t be surprised if you are out to dinner and happen to be eating, let’s say chicken.  Chicken is served by being chopped up with bones, skin, head, and feet.  It’s acceptable to spit the bones onto the table or even the floor.  Out to dinner, burping is normal.


Food in China….don’t expect Chinese food in China to be the same as in the USA or Europe.  There are no egg rolls, General Tso’s chicken,  egg foo yong or fortune cookies in China.  Expect to share all food at meals.  Unless you are in a noodle or other small shop, meals are not served individually.  Food is served family style usually on a large revolving table.  Whatever is in front of you, just grab some with your chopsticks and take a bite.  Sometimes, it’s best not to ask what it is….if you don’t like it, spit it out and don’t take anymore.  If you like it and want to know, ask after the meal, you may have eaten something unusual that would ruin the remainder of your meal. Don’t be surprised if there is a platter of fried bugs on the table like we would place a bowl of peanuts.  Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice.  This would be offensive as it looks like incense sticks at a funeral.  You won’t need to tip the wait staff as there is no tipping in China.  Be prepared to see some exotic food at street markets and street vendors.  It’s perfectly normal to see a deep-fried scorpion and other bugs on a stick.  Starfish on a stick are popular also.  Of course, chicken feet are everywhere. 

You can read my blog on Chinese food here: Who Was General Tso and Why Do Americans Eat His Chicken?


















Now that I have either scared you away from visiting China or just made you more curious, here are just some fun, sometimes crazy facts:

The Great Wall of China is probably the most famous sight in China.  It is 8850 km or 5500 miles long and cannot be seen from space.

All of China is one time zone….Beijing Time

The Chinese Army is 2 million strong or roughly the population of Paris.

35 million people in China still live in caves.

Cave dweller

Urine Eggs are a delicacy. They are eggs boiled 24 hours in the urine of boys under the age of 10.

Over half the population of pigs in the world are in China.

On average, China eats 1.7 million pigs per day.


All pandas in the world are owned by the People’s Republic of China.  They are on loan to zoos all over the world.  When a baby panda is born, it is shipped by FedEx back to China to expand the gene pool.

Stuck in a traffic jam, no problem, call a motorcycle taxi. 2 people will arrive on the motorcycle, one will stay in your car while the motorcycle whisks you to your destination.

Hotels in China can refuse foreigners.china_6

Facekinis are a thing. 

China may have a pollution problem, but they are leading the world in green energy.


Check out the following short YouTube Video

I think I have given you enough information on my take of life in China.  China is a wonderful country with wonderful people.  It is rich in culture and steeped in tradition.  It is also very different from what most westerners are used to.  If you choose to visit China, embrace the craziness. Embrace it because crazy to you is perfectly normal to someone else.  Accept the cultural differences, learn something about the culture and its history and you will probably end up discovering something about yourself.  As James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home”.


My 6th Christmas Abroad ~ What It is Like Not Being “Home” for the Holidays

My 6th Christmas Abroad ~ What It is Like Not Being “Home” for the Holidays

“Home for the holidays”!  Maybe I should start out by defining “home”. The dictionary tells us that home is a noun, an adverb, an adjective and yes, sometimes even a verb. For this blog post, home is “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household”.  If we take the word permanently as important, then “home” for me is/was Warren, Ohio. So….probably the last time I was in Warren Ohio for the holidays was 1999.  My mom, who was the epitome of Christmas, died in February 2000.  After that, I started spending the holidays in Florida.  Once, in 2009, the holidays were spent on a cruise ship in SE Asia. Yes, this part of the world has always been fascinating to me.  2018 marks the 6th Christmas I have spent out of the USA.  4 of which I will have spent in China.

Facebook memories…love them or hate them, they happen.  I was recently reminded of my post from December 2012.  “Another year has come and gone… has been the best and the worst year of my life….and blah, blah, blah….we’ll skip to the part where “I woke one morning and decided to be adventurous.  I have enrolled for an online course at the University of Miami of Florida to teach English as a second language.  I will start the course on January 7, 2013.  Hopefully, I can take a leave of absence from the YMCA, live abroad and teach English next fall”.

Christmas in Paris

2013 turned out to be life changing indeed.  I finished the course in June and started applying for positions in Paris, France. I was asked to a job interview for an agency in Paris.  After a Skype interview, I agreed to a face to face in Paris which I went to in October with a great friend.  The interview went well, but visa issues and such did not pan out.  At the same time, I was struggling through a dark time as my long-term relationship had come crashing to an end, leading to my first holiday abroad…..and I ran, I ran so far away……actually my Christmas gift from my brother and sister-in-law was an airline ticket to Paris for Christmas and New Years.

My first Christmas away from “home” was just what I needed. I rented a small, as in micro size, flat in Montmartre. Paris during the holidays was magical. Christmas Eve was spent at Sacre Coeur for midnight mass listening to the angelic voices of the Benedictine Nuns.  I returned “home” wanting to return to Paris.  I applied and was hired at another Paris agency.  I spent 2014 preparing to move to Paris.  I took a leave of absence from the YMCA, once again rented an apartment in Paris and flew to Chicago for my work visa.  3 days before my flight to Paris, I found out my work visa was denied…WTF….I packed my bags and moved to Paris in August of 2014 despite being jobless.  My second holiday abroad. I met some great expats and even Christmas caroled, drank mulled wine and ate mincemeat pies at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. 

Caroling at Shakespeare and Co.
Mincemeat pies and Mulled Wine



My “home” in Amsterdam

Alone, but not lonely, in Paris, I woke Christmas Eve morning and decided to jump on a train to Amsterdam.  I booked a berth on a boat with 10 others.  What an amazing Christmas.  It was cold as I sat in solitude on the eve of Christmas. The night was clear, the stars sparkled in the water and the moon was a sliver as I sat on the top deck sipping a glass, well a plastic cup, of champagne.  I didn’t feel lonely, but I felt totally alive and filled with emotion. 

Top deck of my “home” in Amsterdam
Sipping bubbly in a plastic cup in Amsterdam on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve in the Red Light District
Christmas 2014




Christmas morning, I shared breakfast with strangers, cooked by the owner of the boat. We sang Christmas songs, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Then, I went to the zoo.  I had to head back to Paris that evening as I had friends arriving for the New Year’s holiday.  The New Year’s holiday is a whole other story for another time…..cliff note version….we were watching fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, got pepper sprayed and I lost both of my phones.  We were fine, and life went on.  I stayed in Paris until February 2015. 

Those months in Paris fed my wanderlust.  I couldn’t return “home” and carry on.  I didn’t return to my job and all I could think about was I needed to travel.  I needed to live abroad again.  August 2015 landed me in Beijing. 

A Xiashan Christmas

My first Christmas in China was spent in Xiashan, a rural village in Shandong Province.  China, being a communist country, doesn’t celebrate Christmas.   I had 2 roommates, both on their gap year from high school, one from Australia and one from Germany, Jessica, and Adrian. We all taught at the primary school in Xiashan. Our school, because they had “foreign teachers”, planned “Christmas”.  They provided Santa hats for all the children.  The thing that touched my heart the most was the headmaster handing a Christmas gift, filled with one apple, to each child.  The happiness in their eyes and hearing them say Merry Christmas as they received their “gift” was quite emotional.  This was Christmas. This is what it’s all about.

Christmas Apples

Christmas 2016 found me in Qingdao.  Qingdao is a large seaside city with a big expat community. I had friends who invited me to a traditional American Christmas celebration.  They had a tree, gifts, Christmas carols, and a turkey dinner. That was all fine and dandy, but the thing that made Christmas special was at our kindergarten Christmas celebration. I was surrounded by Chinese teachers, Chinese students and Chinese parents.  We all joined hands around a Christmas tree.  The children’s eyes were filled with wonder.  As we held hands, we all sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Maybe this doesn’t seem like much, but it brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. I was in a communist country, celebrating a Christian holiday and I felt like I was “home”.

A Qingdao Christmas

2017 I spent in Dong’e.  I will spend 2018 here as well.  2017 I spent with my kindergarten kids and co-workers.  The school provided Santa hats for all the kids.  I taught them Christmas songs. We made Christmas cards they could take home. We made Christmas cookies.  It was heartwarming watching and listening.  This year I will have a party with all the students I tutor. I expect this year to be as wonderful as all the rest.  For now, Dong’e is my “home”

Christmas in Dong’e
Christmas Joy

Have I missed being “home for the holidays”?  I honestly have to say no. Sometimes I see things going on and think, “I wish I were there”, but something will happen here and I’m glad to be where I am.  I don’t miss the commercialism and I love the simplicity here.  Yes, if I am honest, I get feelings of melancholy, but that fades. I miss the lights, the scents, and the music, but somehow, my heart and soul are full.  If things go as planned, but we know what sometimes happens to the best-laid plans, I hope to be in the states for the holidays in 2019 and return to life abroad in 2020. 

I will end with the rest of my Facebook memory from 2012, the Holstee Manifesto:

“This is your life.  Do what you love and do it often.  If you don’t like something, change it.  If you don’t like your job, quit.  If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.  If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.  Stop over-analyzing; life is simple.  All emotions are beautiful.  When you eat, appreciate every last bite.  Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once: seize them.  Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people.  We are united in our differences.  Ask the next person you see what their passion is and share your inspiring dream with them.  Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating.  Life is short.  Live your dream and wear your passion.”

Merry Everything and Happy Always!  Peace to you my friends in 2019!

Breaking my Back in China ~ 10 Things It Taught Me

Breaking my Back in China ~ 10 Things It Taught Me

This weekend I passed the 8-week mark since my accident and surgery.  The experience has definitely been a life lesson. What did breaking my back (and tailbone) and having surgery in China teach me?


  1. Life Can Change in an Instant ~ You hear it all the time; “do it now, tomorrow isn’t promised”, “hug your loved ones, who knows what tomorrow will bring?”, “life is short”, and “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”.  If you’re like me you shake your head and say, “I know, I know” and go about your day.  Going about my day, not a care in the world except packing for a 2-week trip to Paris.  Shit got real.  Looking back, things really do move in slow motion as you realize something “bad” is happening and it is totally out of your control.  Life changed in an instant. I was in a hospital, in a foreign country. I had a broken back and tailbone. I was trying to contact my brother in the states.  I was told I needed surgery.  Turns out I was lucky.  The T12 was resting just against my spinal cord and there was evidence of bone fragments.  Lucky, why? Things could have been much worse.


  1. Bedpans Suck ~ I know, you’re saying, “of course bedpans suck”. Well, you don’t realize how much they suck until it’s your only option. Forget the pain. Forget you’re in a hospital in China.  Forget everything……it’s that moment when, “oh, shit”, no pun intended, I can’t get up to use the bathroom.  Bedpans suck!


  1. A Smile is Indeed a Universal Language ~ My Chinese is poor and other than a few doctors who had studied in the states, most of the nursing and other staff spoke no English other than hello. Peter, my English-speaking host in Dong’e, naturally couldn’t be with me 24/7.  I could tell it was stressful to many of the staff when they knew they had to attempt to communicate with me.  They even avoided eye contact in the beginning.  A couple young nursing students even looked fearful. Finally, I got them to start to look at me and I would give them a big smile and a thumbs up.  Guess what? I got smiles back, a few giggles too.   Soon, everyone had a smile when they came into my room.  Next, I showed them we could communicate with google translate…..more happy faces!  I learned a smile goes a long way to bridge the communication gap.


  1. You Can Get Excellent Medical Treatment Outside the USA ~ I quickly learned things are much different in a Chinese Hospital. You can refer to my prior blog post for those. As news of my situation got back to the states, many were concerned about the level of care I would get outside of the US.  I soon found out that several of my doctors had trained in the United States, some even at the Cleveland Clinic. Their willingness to share treatment options with my family and doctors in the states put us all at ease.  As treatment progressed, before and after surgery, I always felt I was in very competent hands.  Many things are extremely different from what would have happened if I was in the US.  I received TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) right alongside what would have been done in the west. Although I am still recovering, I can say, without a doubt, I received excellent medical treatment in China.


  1. Bedpans Suck, & They Suck Worse When You Need an Enema ~ I won’t get into any gory details. We all agree bedpans suck.  Now as someone who is as regular as the Brown’s losing, 4 days seemed like an eternity or at least like the 635 days of the Browns losing streak.  This is all I will say, when they tell you they are going to give you an enema and you know you have to use the bedpan, it will be the best worst moment of your life.  It was also at this moment, I learned that there is a point in time when you lose all modesty and you don’t give a shit….




  1. 14 Days in Bed at No More Than a 45°Angle Makes One Weak ~ 2 weeks go by, I’m feeling good….little or no pain.  I have cabin fever and just want to go home.  The moment arrives, I move to a full sitting position. Wow, feels pretty good.  Next, I get strapped into my Ninja Turtle-like back brace.  The doctor comes in and asks how I feel.  I give him the thumbs up and ask if I can walk to the restroom use a real toilet. He nods okay.  Whoa, not wow, whoa, I stand and immediately feel light headed and my legs feel like mush, but I walk the gauntlet, ready to sit as soon as I am in the bathroom.  I make it back to my bed and sit again.  The doctor asks how I feel.  I tell him weak and light-headed.  He tells me that’s normal and not to worry.  It is now that I learn that you don’t get a cushy wheelchair ride to a waiting car.  I got to walk myself out of the hospital.  When I finally arrived home, I realized how weak I had become in 2 short weeks. Thankfully I feel myself becoming stronger every day.


  1. Everyday Tasks Aren’t So Easy ~ As instructed, I knew I couldn’t bend, twist or lift anything heavy for several weeks. No problem, right?  Wrong!  Although I got “bathed” and had my hair washed at the hospital, I couldn’t wait for a hot shower and wash my hair.  Who knew raising my arms to wash my hair could be so difficult and exhausting.  Then trying to lean forward to put it in a towel, not easy.  How do I dry my feet….hmmmm, I have to sit down. Mundane tasks like putting on pajama bottoms, again I have to sit.  Clipping my toenails, forget it. I had to ask my caregiver to do it.  I was so happy to get rid of the bedpan.  But guess what?  When using the toilet after back surgery, there is a position between standing and sitting that is extremely uncomfortable. Sneezing or coughing, if standing, I looked for something to support me.  I soon learned that I took many things for granted. Day by day those everyday tasks are becoming easier and almost starting to feel normal again.


  1. Posture is Important ~ One of the first things the doctor told me when I arrived at the hospital was because of the nature of my injury, my stomach would be distended. This became more noticeable after I came home. My low back seemed to naturally want to push my abdomen forward while arching my back.  I realized I was going to have to pay close attention to my posture.  Along with doing stretching exercises I had to consciously pull my abdomen in and not let my back sway. This made a world of difference in how I felt.  I still catch myself slouching and tensing, but as soon as I adjust my posture I feel my whole body relax.


  1. It’s Easy to Get Lazy ~ I remember when my brother first started his own business. He had his office in his home.  I commented how nice to just roll out of bed and work in his underwear or pajamas.  He immediately corrected me.  He told me he would never get anything done that way.  He said he got up, showed and got dressed just like he was going to an office offsite, otherwise you get lazy.  I learned he was correct. In the beginning, the doctor didn’t want me out of bed for long periods of time, so it wasn’t a problem.  As I improved and was spending most of the time up and about my apartment, I learned I did accomplish more if I treated it like a normal day.  I still have the occasional lazy, stay in pajamas all day kind of days, but I definitely feel better and do more if I get up and get dressed for the day.


  1. Attitude is Everything ~ I must admit, during this little hiccup in my life, it hasn’t all been smiles. I have had some bad days.  When I finally admitted to myself that the Paris trip was off, I cried. When my brother and sister-in-law were willing to drop everything and come to my little rural town, I felt bad. I could very easily let myself get depressed and feel sorry for myself.  What good would that do?  I couldn’t change anything that had happened.  I made the decision to wake up every morning with a positive attitude.  Even if it was taking crazy selfies…..some days it was a struggle to be positive, but it doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

I will close with the words of Edith Wharton. “One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are”.  This is probably one of the most important things I learned.

graphic- enjoy the journey1168160186..jpg



I Survived a Chinese Hospital ~ Part 3

I Survived a Chinese Hospital ~ Part 3

I am in pain laying on a street in rural China….I am in an ambulance….I am in a hospital bed being told I have a broken back and need surgery…..It’s the middle of the night in the USA….I can’t reach anyone on the telephone…….Luckily, my future surgeon had spent 1 year studying in Seattle…..I remained calm as I told him I understand I need surgery but you have to understand I will not go under the knife until I can speak to Mark, my brother……I then spent 2 weeks in Dong’e People’s Hospital, Shandong China. My third experience with hospitals in China turned out to be rather serious.

Friday, September 7, 2018, I left my house at 11:40 am, not a care in the world.  I was on my way to my favorite noodle shop for Lanzhou LaMian.  In 15 days, I would be leaving to spend 2 weeks in Paris and beyond.  I would take in a Jimmy Buffett concert or 2 and enjoy my favorite city.  11:45 am, in a mere instant, everything changed.  As I was going down the road on my scooter, I passed a parked car.  With “perfect” or “not so perfect” timing, the rear driver side passenger flung her door open.  The force of her opening her door combined with the speed on my scooter created the perfect storm.  I went flying and my scooter landed partially on me.  As I was laying on the street in Dong’e China, a woman was trying to stand me up. I knew standing wasn’t going to happen and that I more than likely had a back injury.  I had my purse crossbody and managed to find my phone and call Peter (my sponsor in Dong’e).  I handed the phone to the woman who was still trying to get me to stand up and Peter explained to leave me on the road and an ambulance would arrive.   Peter and the ambulance arrived nearly together.  I was soon loaded in the ambulance along with Peter and the woman who hit me, also the one trying to get me to stand.  I later found a video of me being loaded into the ambulance on Chinese social media.

Let me explain that arriving at a hospital in China isn’t exactly like arriving at the ER in the USA.    There is no ER where an ambulance pulls in and unloads you to a room where you wait for a doctor. The ambulance pulled into a parking lot, a team arrives at the ambulance and you are transferred to a bed.  The bed is then wheeled through the parking lot and into the front door of the hospital where you stop at the reception desk and get checked in.  Now I’m assuming the procedure would be different in a life or death situation, but this is my experience. While at the desk, the woman that caused my accident had to pay my admissions fees.  From this point, I’m not sure of all the places I went.  I had x-rays, an MRI a CT scan, blood is drawn, urine sample you name it, I had it or gave it. I must admit, in all my years, I have never had anyone insert a needle so effortlessly, quickly and painlessly as I did here.  I finally ended up in a room and was able to get in contact with my brother, Mark.  Dr. Alex, my surgeon spoke with him on the phone and then forwarded copies of my x-rays and MRI to him to be looked at by a Dr. in the states.  Surgery was scheduled for the next day.  I had a T12 compression fracture and a broken tailbone.  The T12 would be fixed with screws at T11 and L1.  I was in considerable pain and finally received an injection.













One of the first things I learned being admitted to the hospital here was you need to provide your own pajamas, pillow, and blanket.  One of my friends took care of my linens and pajamas for me.  Next thing I learned is that the hospital does not provide meals for patients, these too are provided by family, friends, or wei mei which translates to “beautiful takeout”, kind of like Uber Eats.

Finally, I got some relief from the pain. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but Peter brought me some noodles.  I also was not allowed anything after midnight since surgery was scheduled the next day.  I managed to get a decent night sleep before the early morning blood pressure and temperature wake up.  Next, I was off for an EKG.  The doctor felt there was a slight abnormality and sent me for an echocardiogram.  Once he was satisfied that my heart was okay, they started preparing me for surgery.  Peter, Kimi (my teaching assistant) and my friend Dee were all with me. Dee would call my brother, even though it was the middle of the night in the states, as soon as surgery started and again when it was over.

My friends saw me off to surgery

Soon I was being wheeled away, I snapped a picture of my friends wishing me well and then they took my phone to keep Mark updated.  Next thing I knew I was in the OR.  It all happened so fast the only thing that bothered me was I hadn’t spoken to my brother or sent him a text before they put me under.  I knew my friends would be speaking to him, but I was a little upset I didn’t tell him I loved him.  I knew he knew I did, but something tugged at my heart and that “what if” was in the back of my mind.  I didn’t have much time to dwell on it because they were putting an IV in the back of my hand and I was about to breathe that stuff that would help knock me out.  Again, the IV insertion was a piece of cake.  They definitely know how to insert needles at this hospital.  I looked around at the team I was about to put my trust in and saw Dr. Alex. He asked if I had any questions and was I ready.  I gave him the thumbs up and he gave them back.  The next thing I remember was waking up and being asked to identify the people around me.

Dr. Alex, Dr. Li, and my ICU nurse

My hardware









I spent 3 days in ICU.  Lucky for me, my student Lucy’s mom was the head doctor in ICU.  Lucy’s mom, Sonya, speaks good English as she has also spent time training in the USA.  She even spent several months at the Cleveland Clinic.  The first 24 hours in ICU was pretty much a blur.  I do know I was well cared for.  Someone even came in and brushed my teeth for me.  Once in a regular room, I insisted I could brush my own teeth.


Day after surgery. Checking my incision and changing the dressing.









My IV was easily moved hand to hand several times as they didn’t like the way it looked.  I had several visitors, and someone always provided me with food. Although, all I really wanted to do was sleep.  After 3 days, I was moved to a regular hospital room.

Once I was in a regular room, I quickly realized that nurses do exactly that, they nurse. They are there for your medical care/needs.  Everything else is taken care of by family and friends. Even medication is your responsibility.  The nurse would bring my meds morning and evening and tell me to take them 30 minutes after eating.

My Caregiver

Foot bath








Peter found a caregiver for me.  He also wanted someone to spend the night, but I refused.  I did need a little privacy/my time.  She came and spent approximately 10 hours per day with me in my room.  Slight overkill in my opinion but, that’s just the way it is in a Chinese hospital.  She even tried to hold my kindle for me while I read.  I know she meant well and was “doing her job”, but some things I had to back her off. Peter brought me my Vietnamese phin, coffee, condensed milk, and my mug.  Every morning when she arrived she would make me a cup of coffee.  She helped me when I needed the bedpan.  She helped bath me and wash my hair.    She made sure I had meals, although I often ordered from wei mei.  I had no dietary restrictions except Dr. Alex suggested I eat a lot of fruit.  You know, get those bowels moving. I received daily acupuncture.  Acupuncture treatment was on my abdomen and accompanied with electric stimulation and heat lamp.  This was also to help keep the bowels in working order.  There was also twice daily leg treatment to prevent blood clots.  Unlike American hospitals, the Chinese don’t believe in getting you up and walking immediately.  They feel bed rest is necessary and best. So, I spent 2 weeks in bed and at most having my bed raised to about a 45-degree angle for “sitting”.

Some of my care team

I was the only patient in my room, except every now and again an outpatient was put in the other bed to receive an IV.  They would be there for a couple of hours and then leave.

The second day I was in the room, someone came in and made a mold of my body, front, and back. About a week later a lovely blue ninja turtle suit arrived.  I say ninja turtle because the back brace I would be sent home in looked like a turtle shell.  Solid front and back pieces that adjusted with Velcro straps.  Chinese women don’t have much in the way of breasts, so when I put the brace on the first time I had to laugh at the cutouts made for my boobs.

Leg treatment


For 2 weeks my routine was pretty much the same every day.  Wake up for temperature (thermometer in the armpit) and BP, doctors’ rounds, check my wound, dressing change, coffee, acupuncture, leg treatment, lunch, rest (nothing happens between 12 and 2:00 in China), leg treatment, read, watch movies, dinner and in the evening have visitors and more reading and movies.  I usually called for the nurse around 11pm for a final bedpan, lower my bed and lights out.  I had no bed controls or light switch at my bed, so someone had to come to take care of that. That was my life in Dong’e People’s Hospital.

One surprise, near the end of my hospital stay, I asked Alex if I could have a glass of wine at night.  He said, “sure, 1 small glass”.  My friends brought me a bottle of wine and I enjoyed a glass in the evening at the hospital.


When they let you have a glass of wine in the hospital.












Before I was released, I had another MRI and X-Rays.  My caregiver gathered all my belongings.  I had acquired quite a few. I had about 6 or 7 boxes of milk and yogurt.  I was told this is a typical “gift” brought to you in the hospital.  I also had bananas, dragon fruit, a watermelon, and a bag of apples. I was instructed to get dressed and a nurse came and helped me into my ninja turtle suit.  Still sitting on the edge of my bed, Dr. Alex came in.  He asked me how I felt.  I still haven’t stood or walked at this point.  I slowly stood and told him I felt a little light headed.  He told me that was normal and to try to take a few steps.  I asked if it was ok if I walked to the bathroom and used a “real toilet” for the first time in 2 weeks.  That was my first experience up and walking.  I came back into my room and sat on the bed.  He gave me my release instructions and said I was free to go.  Mostly, I was told no bending, twisting or lifting and if up for longer than 15 or 20 minutes to wear the back brace and to continue to get plenty of rest.  I was also given exercises to do while in bed.  I said okay, and we said our goodbyes until I would go back for a check up in about 1 month.

All of my gifts, milk, fruit, and mooncakes, to take home.

My ninja turtle shell.












Unlike in America, there is no wheelchair ride to a waiting vehicle.  My first big walk was out of the hospital and to the parking lot.  That walk seemed like a marathon, but I did it.  Its now been 6 weeks since my accident and I have no complaints about my treatment or recovery.  It is truly a different experience than I would have expected in the states.  I learned what to expect in a Chinese hospital. I can I happily say, “I Survived a Chinese Hospital”.

A visit from one of my kindergarten buddies.


Students and parents visiting