I just finished reading Undress me in the Temple of Heaven and I’m not sure if I have the words to describe what it meant to me. Traveling is the most amazing thing in the entire world but sometimes it’s just so hard, and travelling in China is really hard. Gilman put into words exactly what I felt in China – even peeing was an ordeal and the simplest task was made so inexplicably difficult. it was simultaneously frustrating and absolutely invigorating. I felt alive in China, wandering the back streets of a huge foreign city, completely alone. I felt so free. I didn’t know I wanted to go back to China, but now I wish I had my guidebook with me so I could look up all the places I missed. There’s so much more to see and I want to see it ALL.
The constant stench, the tears, the overarching DIFFICULTY of every day is what makes traveling in China so unbelievably rewarding. You never know what you’re capable of until you throw yourself off the edge. I threw myself off the edge by going to China solo and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I genuinely believe that I can overcome an difficulty, and I can’t describe the amazing feeling that having that kind of confidence gives you.
Every day in China brought me new challenges, some reducing me to tears. Everybody was always staring at me, seemingly fascinated by the whiteness of my skin. I felt uncomfortable almost all the time, not used to being looked at so much. Going out the door in the morning, I’d wonder what was going to go wrong that day – how many times would I get lost? How long would it take me to find lunch?
But then I’d walk into a temple or catch my first glimpse of the Bund or a child would run up to me and say ‘hello!’ and it would all go away. I’d remember why I was there and why travelling is everything to me. China was a sea of endless highs and lows and I was riding the waves.
If you’re reading this because you’re thinking about going to China (alone? even better!) let the message of this article be that you 100% should go. Nothing compares to exploring such an ancient civilization and seeing just how difficult independent travel can be in some places. If you don’t really want to go to China, but you’re nervous about going somewhere else, please know that you CAN do it. I chased my dreams all the way to China – chase yours wherever they might take you.