A Happy Birthday…in China! Looking Back at a Year on the Road — Liz

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I never would have imagined that I’d be here celebrating my Birthday in China…but here I am.  As we get older, birthdays are less about cake or gifts and more about reflecting on the awesomeness that is life.  Reflecting on our past experiences with pride (and laughter), while looking ahead with optimism.

For me, that’s what makes this birthday particularly special.  We set out on this journey at the beginning of August last year, so while I’ve had two birthdays on the road, it’s really only been 1 year of travel.

And what a year it’s been.
A spectacular visit to the ancient city of Sukhothai, Thailand!
A spectacular visit to the ancient city of Sukhothai, Thailand!

As I sit in this Chinese coffee shop across the street from my apartment, I can’t help but smile when I think about what has happened in this short year (for starters, I live in an apartment in China!).  The great thing about being on a journey like this is that you just never know what is around the corner, or where your adventure will take you next.

From the good, the bad, the painful, the utterly confusing…and the gnarley critters, I feel like I’ve proved in the last year that I can handle just about anything that comes my way.

So indulge me for a moment, while I think back on some of my favorite memories and proud accomplishments from our first year on the road during our journey around the world.

Walking to bus station in SUkhothai, Thailand - Peanuts or Pretzels Instagram

Conquering My Fear of Cliff Jumping from a Waterfall

To some of you, this would have been totally lame.   While I’m not afraid of heights, I do get a bit freaked out when swimming in deep water. Combine that with a bad childhood experience jumping from a high-dive, and you get an adult with an irrational fear of jumping off a 12 foot cliff.

Here’s a link to the video (WARNING:  it’s really embarrassing…)

This jump from the top of a waterfall down into a deep pool really freaked me out.  We were in Hawaii, and just went on an epic 4 hour hike to swim in a hidden waterfall and find an awesome 5/5 geocache.  On the return journey, I realized that this particular waterfall that we scaled on the way up had no safe way to climb down…jumping was really the ONLY way.  I was terrified.  And it took me quite a while to get the courage to jump, but eventually, I did it.

My homemade lei in Hawaii!
Showing off my homemade lei in Hawaii!

Successfully Communicating (in any way possible) With People in Foreign Countries

Honestly, it’s a “win” anytime you can successfully communicate with someone in a foreign language, even if it’s just to find the bathroom.  But it feels super rewarding to know that we’ve been able to do much more than that.  We’ve navigated cities, learned public transportation, traveled by train, ordered food, gotten cell phone sim cards, bank accounts…and even rented apartments.

China high speed trains
Navigating the trains in China — read those signs!

While we are not masters of any of these foreign languages, combining a few local words with some good ol’ fashion unofficial sign language is enough.  It’s satisfying to know that we’ve been able to work our way through so many countries on our own…and that we have even made new friends along the way — a reminder that the language of friendship & humanity is universal.

Laughing with the Dr. in China
Laughing with the Dr. in China

Surviving 4 days in Bangkok, Thailand…WITHOUT Air Conditioning!

Trying to be super frugal after an expensive 3 weeks in Hawaii, we had the option to go without A/C at our Airbnb in Bangkok for a cheaper room rate.  So we convinced ourselves that we could “tough it out” like many of the locals (including our hosts) by using fans and open windows in this local Thai home.

And you know what? We did!

While staying in this local Thai neighborhood, we learned how to use a “Thai shower” — basically just a giant vessel full of cool water, and a bowl to scoop and pour over yourself.  We would soak ourselves before laying under the fan in our room.

But after 4 days of literally not having a single dry spot on our bodies (and me getting heat blisters on my hands and feet), — we said “screw it – we’ll pay extra for A/C!”

Hanging out with our Airbnb hosts in Bangkok
Morning coffee with our Airbnb hosts and fellow guests in Bangkok

Not Pissing My Pants Around Tarantulas & Snakes

While hiking in Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi Thailand to swim in some amazing waterfalls, we were warned about running across some scary wildlife. Our guide to the entrance of the park joked about the resident tarantulas (and taunted them with a stick while showing us where they lived), but it was the snakes she really warned us about.

As luck would have it, my heart dropped a few hours later while hiking…when I saw the tail end of a long snake crossing the path about 5 feet in front of me!   Shockingly, I held it together and pressed onward, vowing to only look straight ahead at the trail and not be concerned with anything in the trees and brush around me.

Thankfully, that was my closest snake encounter thus far on the trip.  And I’ll never forget swimming in these beautiful waterfalls and gliding down “sliding rock” – a natural water slide into the crisp & refreshing pools at this national park in Thailand.


Scolding a Giant Buddha Saved the Day…and a LOT of Money

Then there was the time I lost the key to our rental car, shortly after being blessed for “good luck” by a monk at a monastery in Thailand. We spent hours retracing our steps, until it was getting dark. Our belongings (including passports) were in the car, the emergency phone numbers weren’t working, and the rental “agency” (if that’s what it was) only spoke Thai.

We were dreading the headaches and the price tag for my dumb mistake.

Getting Blessed

Eventually I found myself standing in front of the giant Buddha statue, the site of our blessing. Frustrated, I pointed my finger up at the towering statue and scolded him about the “good luck” we were having. Then suddenly I realized that I had to go to the bathroom…like NOW (If you’ve been to Thailand, you know what I’m talking about).

Rushing to the only bathroom nearby, I was practically in tears from this horrible evening.

And there it was, the key laying right in front in the middle of the path.
Ready to get blessed by the Monk at "Big Buddha" on Koh Samui
Ready to get blessed by the Monk at “Big Buddha” on Koh Samui

Not Ending up in a Thai Hospital During the Loy Krathong Festival

Sheer beauty and complete mayhem…all in one. That’s the best way I can think to describe the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand. I had always wanted to see this famous lantern festival, and it really was one of the most memorable experiences on our trip.   Simply magical in so many ways.

Groups sending off Khom Loi (paper lanterns) from a local park in Chiang Mai, Thailand


However, it’s a free-for-all when it comes to fireworks. There seem to be no rules, and the entire city of Chiang Mai was nothing but fireworks. You had to be on high alert at all times, with fireworks literally zooming past your head at any given moment. And at one point, Josh’s “firework swinging skills” even had me and a crowd of people running for cover!

Liz and her Krathong - Peanuts or Pretzels
Me and my homemade Krathong to send down the river.

But honestly, this really was one of my most favorite festivals that I have ever seen.  We had an amazing experience making our own Krathongs & I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight as the endless number of lanterns filled the sky for days, slowly moving in the breeze.

I will never forget this festival!

Dominating the Motorbike!

After an embarrassing experience renting a motorbike in Ao Nang, Thailand years ago — I was hesitant to ever try a motorbike again.   After all, they are the leading cause of injury (and death) among tourists in Thailand. However, while living in Chiang Mai…I had to suck it up.   We knew having the bike would make our experience so much more enjoyable, and help us to feel like locals — especially since we were working around town.

Before we knew it, we were zipping all over Chiang Mai on motorbike, and out into the countryside. Heading up to mountain temples, to hot springs in the countryside, and even a golf tournament outside of town.  Nothing can stop us now. We even rented a motorbike while visiting Yangshuo, China!

Riding a Bike in Chiang Mai


Realizing That I Now PREFER to Use Chopsticks Over a Fork!

I never in my life thought I would say this. But after nearly a year of living in Asia, we are really starting to become comfortable with using chopsticks. Certainly there are drawbacks to this type of utensil, but we have also come to realize some of the benefits over forks.

So imagine my shock a few weeks ago when I opened my take out meal, grabbed the fork they gave me and instinctively said out loud “damn, where are the chopsticks?”  I realized that I actually wanted to use the chopsticks instead.  I couldn’t believe these words were coming out of my mouth! Luckily, Josh had the same thought — bizarre feeling!

Local food

Getting a Job in China & Becoming an Official Resident

Who would have ever thought that I’d be an official resident of China!  It’s kinda crazy to think about.  It’s satisfying enough to get a good job at home in the States.  But for me, I always had a dream to work abroad.  And I must say that it feels great to have landed multiple jobs overseas, including a numerous job offers in China.

chinese resident

I’m enjoying my job teaching English in China.  There are so many differences in the work culture here, I’m fascinated everyday.  I love talking to my students (teenagers and adults) to learn about the culture here in China, and they are fascinated with learning about me and my culture.  Plus, I also travel to various companies to teach them — I’ve regularly taught students at a large car manufacturer, a logistics company & a shoe company. It’s amazing to fulfil my dreams of international business, because what I’m doing is a lot more than just English teaching!

But I must say, if you think the smell of microwaved fish coming from the breakroom is bad…at least you don’t have pots of chicken and pigs feet!  “It’s good for you,” …or so they tell me.
My students - the international sales and marketing team at a global car manufacturer here in China.
My students & I celebrating – the international sales and marketing team at a global car manufacturer here in China.

Understanding This…

Bus Sign

The day I could look at this sign and actually understand it, and read it out load to people is a day I will never forget.  It seriously felt like I should win an award or something.

And now I’m even starting to use some Chinese apps on my phone — I can understand what the pic below says and I can say it to my driver (as well as a few other short phrases).  The more I learn Chinese, recognizing characters and speaking, the more I can’t believe it.  What an experience, and something I never would have imagined so long ago.

The Chinese version of Uber...and I actually know what that says & can speak it!
The Chinese version of Uber…and I actually know what that says & can speak it!

Having a Stand-Off With a Rat in Our Apartment on Christmas Day

Even though we live in a fairly luxurious apartment here in China, pests are everywhere. And one thing this journey has taught me is to be much less uptight about things and keep my cool with things that are less than clean or appealing.  Only a few days after moving in, we started noticing some strange things that led us to believe there was another resident in our home.

Sure enough, on Christmas Day Josh and I surprised him on one of his dark-room-romps and we chased him around for quite some time.  The three of us even had a stare down in the dining room. We didn’t get him that day, but soon after.

(you really didn’t eat all the cookies, Josh)

Surviving a Chinese Hospital

You can handle more than you think. Nothing reminded me of this more than a few weeks ago when I broke my foot in China. Of course, I never wanted to experience a Chinese hospital…maybe it was even something I feared. But now I’ve been there, done that…and now I don’t have to fear that uncertainty anymore.

Yup, things happen!
Yup, things happen!

We were capable of handling that situation, and I feel like we are better prepared for the future as a result. But hopefully, that’s the extent of our injuries on the road.

The Battle Scars That Will Stay With Me Forever

While I’ve always been a bit clumsy, things seem to have gone to a new level while on our trip around the world.  I broke my foot — that’s a big one, but luckily that won’t leave a mark.  However, you can tally up the other scars I’ve received — including the spot on my arm where I gauged myself with a bolt after running my arm into a pole at a street market in Thailand.

Or even better, the new scar on my forehead that makes a dimple when I raise my eyebrows now…that’s from when I sliced my head open on a table in our apartment in China (nearly knocking myself out!).  Lets just call them unique souvenirs from the trip.

battle scars

Rollin’ With the Punches

While I’m not perfect, one of the biggest things I’m proud of during this whole adventure is saying “yes” more often. It’s amazing what doors will open if you are up for it, and you never know where it will eventually lead you.  In fact, some of the very best experiences that we’ve had on the road were completely unplanned.  We just rolled with it.

Honestly, I think that saying “yes” is one of the very best ways to bring happiness, and excitement into your life.

And on this journey around the world, I think I’m getting better at it. Maybe, I’m getting better at life too.

It’s been a great ride – so it is a very happy birthday for me.  Bring on the next year!

– Liz

To another awesome year!
To another awesome year!


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