mike’s reflections on china

In late January, my husband Mike traveled from Virginia to visit me here in China.  We went to Hunan province, where we visited Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie, and to Guangxi, where we visited Guilin and Yangshuo.  I was disappointed for him because we had horrible weather for nearly the whole time he was here.  His one and only experience of China was a rainy, fog-enshrouded, cold and gloomy one.  In his reflections below, you can see that despite our hardships, he managed to see the experience as a positive one.  This was more than I could say for myself, but then I’ve seen better days in China.

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Here are Mike’s reflections, along with some of the photos he took.


After Cathy decided to go to China to teach this year she suggested that I should plan on visiting and traveling with her on one of her breaks. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. My first inclination is to plan relaxing, stress-free, outdoorsy vacations away from crowds and the fast-paced life I deal with in the DC suburbs. After giving the idea some thought and talking more with Cathy, I committed, leaving the planning to her, providing feedback on trip options when asked. I am an avid reader, like Cathy, and have an interest in cultural anthropology and world history, which I get from a fictional and non-fictional perspective. In addition to having the opportunity to spend some time with my nomad wife, I would see firsthand how one in five people on our planet live.

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

I knew from the outset that this trip would be a challenge, starting and ending with the long time-zone crossing flights halfway around the globe. From Cathy’s early travel experiences in China I knew that our in-country travels would not be easy. Neither of us are much on tour groups, preferring the freedom to move about at our own pace, surrounded by local folks, being forced to figure things out on our own. That‘s half the adventure. The apprehension we felt every time we ventured out to our next destination was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and relief upon arrival. I came with no expectations other than to relish the uniqueness of China. Cathy put a lot of time and energy into our itinerary, hoping to show me the picturesque and historic side of Guangxi and Hunan provinces. You seasoned travelers understand the tenuous balance between trying to visit as many places as possible within a tight time window and allowing oneself the time to soak in the essence of each layover, and recharge, before diving in to the next adventure. I felt like we achieved that balance.



Cathy was very honest on her blog in describing her disappointment with the cool damp weather during my visit. Besides yielding a series of fog shrouded photos for her blog, she was sad for me. I am sure that many travel bloggers portray only the positive aspects of their trips, which is not reality. You have to accept and learn to deal with weather and other circumstances that don’t go your way. I like how Cathy freely shares her personal frustrations in her blogs.

Yes, I would have enjoyed some clear sunny days, but I was so alert to the sights, sounds, smells and the way of life wherever we went that the weather had much less of an impact on me than Cathy. The mist encased quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie and the limestone karsts of Yangshuo looked whimsical and mysterious. The one rainy day where we didn’t go trekking was spent lounging in bed reading and treating ourselves to a muscle relaxing massage. That was just what we needed, some down time to recover.



I was constantly fascinated by assorted modes of transportation, the unified flow of scooters, bikes and buses on the crowded streets and dusty rural roads, the lack of heat throughout, the family way of life in the shops, service bays, and eateries, the variety of critters and body parts offered on the menus, the placid acceptance of a quality of life that few westerners could imagine, the third world toilets, the often derelict trains and train stations, the rural communal hamlets we cycled through, the villagers laboring in the never-ending fields, and the general friendliness of the people we encountered.

I wanted to see where Cathy lived, where she worked, the students she taught, where she shopped and ate, how she traveled, the soul and spirit of the bustling cities, the steady march of the rural farms, so I could get a sense for the environment she moved about in during her life in Guangxi. Thankfully those impressions will now be with me for the rest of her stay in Nanning, sensory impressions catalogued and brought to mind as she shares with me her weekly recap on Skype. Instead of her face and the stories she tells in words, I will see much more.

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

There are so many memories and images that come to mind from our two-week excursion, all fascinating to me, many of which Cathy has already shared in her blog. Some of these memories can’t be captured by pictures and words. They were moments of interaction, on some level, with others, in a land where one feels so isolated, despite being surrounded by 1.3 billion people. The thirteen hour plane ride seated next to a mother and her young son from Mongolia on their return trip from studying at the international school in Miami, Florida, the respectful sharing of a small train compartment for twelve hours with two young strangers, the prideful smile on the face of our dumpling lady in Fenghuang who was thrilled to see us show up for breakfast three mornings in a row, the conversation with a young woman, employed in international sales, on our boat ride on Baofang Lake, the engaging conversation with Duco, the young Dutch backpacker, on our bus ride to Yangshuo, the family we traveled with on our Li river bamboo raft, and the many challenging interactions arising from the language barrier at every twist and turn.

the town of Yangshuo

the town of Yangshuo

In one of Cathy’s blogs about Alex’s time in China she mentions a tension-filled afternoon. This is to be expected, in less than ideal travel situations and close quarters, as individual expectations collide with circumstances and each other. I suppose the key to traveling with someone else, successfully, is to recognize that this will happen and what to do when it does happen. I think in Alex and Cathy’s case, space and time was all they needed, and by the evening they were fine. It was surprising to me given all of the traveling we did and the inclement weather we encountered that we didn’t really encounter any moments of tension. Perhaps I’ll chalk that up to my laid back nature; HA! Just joking Cathy, I know it takes two to make this happen.

In looking back on my two weeks in China, followed by Alex’s two weeks, followed by Cathy’s trip to Myanmar, I am amazed at Cathy’s stamina, especially in light of the cough she came down with on our trip. Both Alex and I were exhausted after our short journeys. I can’t even begin to imagine doing that for six weeks. Cathy is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going!!!

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

As I left China I realized that this was truly a once-in-a-life experience. It is an experience that for myself, and for Alex, will resurface in years to come as we put global events into perspective, as a result of having the opportunity to glimpse a way of life so different from our own. I am thankful for that opportunity.

Categories: Airplane, Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, Bicycle tour, Bus, Changsha, China, Fenghuang, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Hunan, Jishou, Li River, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Spring Festival, Train, Transportation, Travel, West Street, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Xi Jie, Xianggong Hill, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on “mike’s reflections on china

  1. Wonderful addition to the blog, Mike!! We all were very much looking forward to your eloquent and insightful impressions. I think you and Cathy need to write together, sharing your different impressions of the same trips, more often! Fascination to see both sides of a wonderful coin! Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself and Cathy through your words!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike here – As for writing about joint trips with Cathy on a regular basis, I could never keep up with her amazing writing pace. I’ll let her handle the play-by-play and I’ll provide occasional color commentary. It’s much easier that way. Cathy’s perspective was much different than mine since she lives in China and has already experienced the newness of the country.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for replying, Mike!! I just today, 7/29/15, about ten minutes ago, realized my dead blog shows all the responses to my postings!!!! I am thrilled to go through them all now, and relive the stories Cathy has told over the past few years. You know I only decided to go to Oman after I found her blog on UNizwa. When I saw her lovely flat, I accepted the job the next day. To have her suddenly sitting next to me, after sharing some wonderfully generous emails, and then even better. to have become friends, was one of the great highlights of my teaching career. I adore Cathy and admire her, and I know your support is what makes it possible in many ways for her to have these experiences. Thank you for being you, and thank you so much for taking the time to replying. Your posting was fascinating, and remember, it is quality, not quantity, that matters when it comes to writing! Cathy has both covered, but I hope Alex also shares his views about his trip as I am sure that will make fascinating reading, too!!!!! Best regards from Canada, Mona Lisa


  2. Thank you Mike for sharing your experience of your amazing trip with us. I love that you describe Cathy as the Energizer Bunny. I also cannot imagine how she keeps going.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful family memories promising future times of comparing experiences, laughter and shared comradery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think it’s great that the family is visiting me when I live abroad. It gives them a new perspective on the world and also gives them a glimpse of my life.

      I think it’s great when you hear something about a place on the news and you can say, Yes, I understand. I’ve been there. I can picture that. Travel opens our minds and our hearts. Lots of great memories we’ll all have to share. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mike here – Carol – Its funny how experiences from our trips over the years come back to us at the oddest times. When Alex was a grumpy teenager he wanted no part of our family trip to France and Germany. He was sulky throughout much of the trip, but as we reflect back on the trip he has fond memories.


  4. Mike I followed your time with Cathy – and Alex’s, and its been fascinating. I’m glad you wrote this as I couldn’t help wondering about your experience of the trip. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike here – Lucid Gypsy – The writing helped me express and archive some of my thoughts and feelings about my trip. Otherwise they may have faded away with time, leaving behind the slightly faded pictorial memories.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderfully and eloquently summed up, Mike. Cathy, I love the images you scattered throughout. It looks and sounds like an amazing trip, in spite of the weather.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike here – Robin – Yes it was an amazing trip despite the weather and I wanted to make sure that Cathy understood this. I had fun summarizing my impressions. Cathy’s photo touch was great.


  6. Mike, what a thorough and insightful reflection on your time in China. I very much enjoyed reading your impressions filled with wisdom and equanimity.


    • Mike here – Beauty Along the Road – The writing helped me express and archive some of my thoughts and feelings about my trip. Otherwise they may have faded away with time, leaving behind the slightly faded pictorial memories. Cathy was so upset for me over the weather, so I wanted to reach out to her to let her know, in retrospect how amazing the trip was despite the weather.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I told my husband about your post and may get him to write for my blog, also 🙂 You are so right – when we write things down, they stay with us much longer. Thoughts and words dissipate much more quickly.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What a thoroughly nice man, and you can write too 🙂 (competition, Cathy! 🙂 ) I love the description of your Energizer Bunny. I possibly have that in common with Cathy but not quite her spirit of adventure. Thanks for sharing your nomad wife with us, Mike. Very best wishes to both of you.


    • Mike here- restlessjo – I don’t know many people who have Cathy’s spirit of adventure or stamina. The writing part was fun, but I can only do this in small concentrated doses, so there is nothing for Cathy to fear. We have always joked that it must be tough being Cathy. That restlessness is a part of her that may never be tamed.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I so enjoyed reading Mike’s impressions, Cathy. While you were worried about the weather and pleasing him with a great time, he was having it anyway. Just being there and soaking it all in. Not everyone wants to interact with strangers, but Mike found that to be one of the hi-lites of the trip. What a great idea to have him write and use his photos as well. Will Alex contribute? You are amazing, Cathy, with all the traveling you do and so much on your own. Hope that cough has cleared up.


    • Mike here- travelerlynne- Thanks. Cathy was really so upset for me over the weather, so I wanted to reach out to her to let her know, in retrospect how amazing the trip was despite the cool damp clouds that seemed to linger over us..


  9. Tell Mike thanks for sharing his side of the experience! It was very articulate and rounds out what you’ve been telling us. I’m so glad he took a lot of pictures of you also.



    • Mike here- dogear6 – Your welcome. I enjoyed writing down my reflections. I will NEVER be as prolific a writer or traveler as Cathy, but she does inspire us to do both.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mike – you’re a good sport to go around China with Cathy and participate in her blog with her. Hopefully we’ll meet one or both of you later this summer if / when you come to Richmond.


  10. I really enjoyed reading Mike’s take on the trip (thank you Mike) – it is interesting how the same trip can be viewed so differently through another pair of eyes. 🙂


    • Mike here – Elaine- Thanks. Cathy’s perspective was much different than mine since she lives in China and has already experienced the newness of the country. For me it was a constant flood of new impressions.


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