Note to Self: An Oath for My Upcoming Year of Travel

February 21, 2011

Surprise! I moved to China!

Okay, so maybe this isn’t such a big surprise. I’ve been blathering on about moving to China for some time now.

But the big move did kind of have a way of sneaking up on me.

Maybe I was too busy enjoying pretzel M&Ms.

Or maybe it was all that American reality TV keeping me busy. (Not only were there the countless hours I had to spend watching the likes of Jersey Shore and Jerseylicious, but I also had to spend countless hours afterwards researching terms like “gorilla juicehead” and “disco fries” just to know what everyone was talking about. Who knew, New Jersey had such a complex vernacular?)

Or possibly I was too busy devising new games to play with my niece and nephew, who spend the weekdays at my parent’s house. (My favorite: “Pile Toys on Sally While She Lies on the Couch.” Yes, it’s just as action-packed as it sounds! And, yes, I am available to babysit! Act now, or you might not be able to afford me… with genius games like this one up my sleeve, I’m thinking about raising my rates!).

I must have been so busy, that I forgot I was moving to China.

I had been home in the States for two weeks before I got around to applying for my Chinese visa. In case you’re wondering, I really wouldn’t recommend postponing the whole visa application process should you be planning a trip to China —  unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys having a million stress-induced heart attacks. Getting a Chinese visa usually takes about a week, and it takes even longer if you happen to be applying for one in the middle of the Chinese New Year when the Chinese Consulate is closed. I didn’t get my visa until about two days before I was scheduled to leave home… which, coincidentally, was about one day before my heart was scheduled to explode.

It’s not that I didn’t want to go to China.

I did.

Moving to China was always something I wanted to do one day.

But, like all the things I want to do one day (for example: having visible stomach muscles, learning how to talk to boys, and owning a unicorn ranch) moving to China sounded like a lot of work.

Everyone who had ever been to China or lived in China told me that it would be difficult. I was warned that it’s hard to get by without any Chinese knowledge. I was told it would be freezing when I arrived in mid-February. I heard horror stories about the air pollution and the food and the pushy crowds.

Yet, prior to leaving the States, I didn’t bother to learn a lick of Chinese. I only packed one bulky sweater, and the one pair of boots I brought with me is made from flimsy pleather (when they really should be made of something a bit more insulated… like hearty whale blubber). I didn’t bring a face mask or a backup supply of granola bars or even a sharp pointy stick to keep the pushy crowds at bay.

In fact, I did very little to prepare for my big move back to Asia.

I didn’t spend weeks poring over a packing list and hemming and hawing over what to bring and packing and repacking like I did last year when I set off on my big trip. Instead, this time, I spent weeks pouring myself margaritas and eating nachos. I got rid of the pants that I could no longer fit into and stubbornly refused to buy new pants in a size I didn’t feel was really me.

When I did pack my bags, I ended up cramming in the few things that still fit me. (This is the reason why I showed up to China with more pairs of shoes than pairs of pants… sadly, none of the shoes or pants happen to be adequately insulated. Anyone know where I can pick up a nice pair of fur-lined trousers or one of those pairs of puffy moonboots somewhere near Shanghai?).

I didn’t write a big blog post about my plans for my upcoming year of travel. (And it’s not because I don’t have tons of super awesome, top secret plans for the next year. Trust me! In fact, my plans are so super awesomely top secret that even I don’t know what they are yet!).

I didn’t come up with a set of rules for myself. Last year, I had a whole list of do’s and don’ts for my trip. I would write down all my expenses and keep to a strict budget. I would not pay any rent or stay in any hotels or guesthouses. (After all, why pay rent when you can sleep in public for free? So what if you wake up with pigeons in your ponytail and what appears to be scabies? Birds and bacterial infections, my friends, that’s what adventure is all about!). I also swore off guidebooks and group tours. (Instead, I would “live like a local”…. Or at least like the locals who eat cookies and hang out on couches).

These rules lasted about as long as most of my self-imposed rules do: approximately twenty-four hours.

Quickly after leaving Japan and arriving at the Bangkok airport last February, I booked a room at a nearby guesthouse, where I spent the evening prior to my morning flight to Chiang Rai in comfort and clean sheets. (Rather than, say, on a park bench covered in pigeon feathers).

I can’t say that I was too surprised at my willingness to give up on my rules so quickly. I’ve never been the “rules type”… or the “budget type”… or even, say, the “sleep in the international departures lounge of an airport type.”

The one thing that I managed to accomplish while I was at home (aside from aforementioned binging of Pretzel M&Ms and intensive studying of all Jersey-related reality TV shows) was to go through the few boxes that I kept at my parent’s house. After donating my old clothes and ditching old yearbooks (really, do I need evidence that my bangs once used to rival two-story buildings in height?), I managed to reduce my belongings down to three measly Rubbermaid bins and the two bags I brought with me to China.

In one box, I came across a letter I had written myself while I was in the eighth grade. The letter was sealed in a pink envelope and marked with the express directions that it not be opened until the year after I had written it.

I ended up opening it over fifteen years later.

My mother gave me the letter a few years ago after discovering it shoved down the pants of one of my old dolls (in the eighth grade, this must have been my idea of a time capsule).

The letter contained the following oath, which I had written to myself:

I will never not be myself: I will not fall victim to others, ideals or things.

I will not take drugs.

I will not be a slave to popularity or popular people!

I will not die if my clothes clash or if they are not expensive.

That is my oath

Hopefully I have kept it.


Me, Myself & I

After reviewing this oath written almost twenty-one years ago, I have to say I’ve done a pretty good job of upholding all my promises.

I am never not myself… despite all my attempts to be cooler or better or, you know, one of those people who has willpower.

I don’t do drugs… mostly, because they scare me. Heck, I’m even creeped out by cold medicine.

I have done a pretty good job of avoiding popularity. (I’d like to think this has been a conscious decision… and not, say, the result of my lack of ankles and my inability speak in coherent sentences while talking to cute boys.)

I have never once died because of my cheap, clashy clothes. (And, trust me, there isn’t anything I love more than cheap, clashy clothes! So what if my new shoes don’t match a thing I own and were made from nuclear waste? They only cost me two dollars! That’s like a dollar per shoe! And any resultant foot scarring comes free! Talk about bargain!)

Given my success at keeping to a whole bunch of promises I couldn’t even remember making back in the eighth grade, I’ve decided instead of rules, this year, I will just make oaths.

Oaths don’t sound nearly as restrictive and unfun as rules.

Besides, an oath is made when doing significant things – like becoming President or, ummm, a veterinarian. Sure, I’m not going to be castrating any cows anytime soon. (At least, I hope not! But, you never know! Given my past volunteer experiences, I wouldn’t be too surprised if I end up signing up to perform amateur cattle surgery in exchange for free room and board.) But, heck, getting rid of all my stuff (again), picking up my life (again) and moving myself to Asia (again) sounds pretty significant, right?

So, here, goes:

My Oath for my Upcoming Year of Travel

I will never not be myself. I have tried before and it simply doesn’t work. I’m stuck with me – every couch-loving, long-blathery-blog-post-writing, rule-scorning, scaredy-cat, snarky bit of me. And you’re stuck with me, too. (Or not… I mean you can stop reading this blog at any time. But that wouldn’t be very nice of you, now would it? And aren’t you just dying to find out what hi-jinks I get up to in China? That is when I muster up enough energy to leave my couch…)

I will not take drugs. Or jump out of an airplane. Or zipline through the jungle. Or do anything else that scares the ill-fitting pants off of me. But maybe I will try to conquer a few of my fears and do a few things I’m afraid of – like ride a horse in Mongolia… or, umm, pet a horse in Mongolia. Baby steps, people.

I will not be a slave to popularity or popular people… or those lists of popular travel bloggers. (Although if you want to put me on a list of popular travel bloggers, you’re welcome to do so. Just know I won’t be your slave! But I will totally be your BFF.)

I will not die if my clothes clash or if they are not expensive (but it would be super awesome if they could fit again… just saying). I will not die if this year doesn’t end up exactly as planned – even though I don’t really have much of a plan to begin with. I probably won’t even die if I ride a Mongolian horse or two (but maybe it’s best I don’t risk it).

That is my oath.

And I’m sticking to it… just like I’m sticking to my new couch. Have I mentioned my new couch? It’s HUGE. See:

All those people who told me I’d have a hard time in China, obviously, had no idea about the size of couches in these parts.


Me, Myself & I (and my new couch… we’re kind of an “item” these days)


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On February 21, 2011 at 3:23 pm Maria said:

    Have such a wonderful time in China! You’re right, they really do have great couches in China (as well as great taste in orange couches, apparently):

  2. On February 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm Mike Lenzen said:

    Wow, who would have thought that your grade 8 oath would still apply today.

    Just watched the movie Mongol yesterday. Riding a horse in Mongolia is at an all time high on my to-do list. I’ll be reading to see how it goes for you.

    Enjoy your new couch.
    Mike Lenzen recently posted..Dining on a Dime

    • On February 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm Sally said:

      When I reread that oath I’m always amazed by how much I am still that exact same person. And I’m also amazed that I always keep on trying to change myself — obviously if I haven’t made any progress in the past 20 years, I doubt I’ll be making any in the future!

  3. On February 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm Andrew said:

    I’ve oddly enough been looking for a couch just like that. Is it waterproof? I keep hearing about this couch-surfing and I want to try it.
    Andrew recently posted..German Obsession with Fresh Air

  4. On February 21, 2011 at 9:20 pm Ken C. said:

    Wow! Congratulations on beginning your new & exciting adventure in China!

    Your new couch [while it might be lacking in color coordination] looks to be roomy and comfortable.

    So, you’ll be teaching English, is that right?

    • On February 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm Sally said:

      Are you saying brown, orange & off-white don’t work together? I believe the 70’s would disagree.

      Yep, I’m teaching English at a university here in Wuxi.

  5. On February 21, 2011 at 9:28 pm Ceri said:

    I have definitely discovered your blog at the right time. 😀

    I can’t wait to read all about your new life in China. You’re like my hero – Knowing exactly where you want to move to and just going for it. That’s what I’m hoping to do in the next year too. 😀

    I love your new couch, btw. I love L-shaped ones so much. That much easier to cuddle up on and fall asleep.

    And how amazing is your 8th grade oath? I wish I’d been that wise at that age.

    • On February 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm Sally said:

      Well, I can’t say I always know “exactly where” I want to move to. I’m just trying to check off most of the major countries in Eastern Asia before I allow myself to move on to the rest of the world! This may take me a LONG time!

  6. On February 21, 2011 at 9:29 pm Ceri said:

    And just realised from following you to Twitter that you’re teaching English. Yet another reason to subscribe to your blog!

    (That’s what I’m about to do in South America.)
    Ceri recently posted..A change in today’s task

  7. On February 21, 2011 at 9:34 pm 1Dad1Kid said:

    Another fabulous post!
    1Dad1Kid recently posted..Gravity- the French Senate- and St Joan of Arc

  8. On February 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm Annie said:

    That’s a pretty awesome couch you got there! Impressive, it sounds like China will suit you well! 😉

    You were a pretty put together 8-year-old I don’t think I could have put together a letter like that at 8. Mine would have said something about wanting to run away to be a part of the Lion King pride or something.
    Annie recently posted..Sardinia Day 2- Carloforte

    • On February 22, 2011 at 12:28 pm Sally said:

      Oh, the oath was made in eighth-grade… so I would have been 12 or 13 I guess. Much more mature than an 8 year old! 🙂 And I was way too scared of lions or running away from home… (Umm, kind of still am… especially about the lions)

  9. On February 21, 2011 at 9:59 pm Anna said:

    Love the letters! You were a smart kid! I’m going to write myself my own oaths now, you’ve totally inspired me.

  10. On February 22, 2011 at 12:45 am Dalene said:

    Wow. I have to say that I am SUPER impressed with your 8th grade oath. In 8th grade I’m pretty sure I was obsessed with matching my scrunchy to my slouch socks (how old AM I?) and debating my popularity.

    I want that couch!
    Dalene recently posted..Delicious Catchup!

  11. On February 22, 2011 at 1:26 am Christy @ Technosyncratic said:

    Wow, it seems you were quite the rad 8th grader! And that couch is sweeeet.
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Help Us Choose Our Route!

  12. On February 22, 2011 at 2:22 am Theresa said:

    Here’s to keeping your oath…or not. Maybe just here’s to having a good time, whether that be on a horse in Mongolia or on a couch with Oreos.
    Theresa recently posted..Language as Hope- Teaching English to Refugees

  13. On February 22, 2011 at 4:22 am Ali said:

    The amateur cattle surgery part cracked me up! I’m glad you’re being true to yourself, sometimes it’s hard not to pressure yourself about what you “should” be doing. If you want to relax on your awesome new couch, go for it!
    Ali recently posted..Iguazu Falls

  14. On February 22, 2011 at 4:24 am maryanne said:

    Gotta say, that’s an awesome couch you’ve got there. Will you ever leave it, except to go to class or to go forage for Oreos?

    I’m starting to think I need an oath, though I don’t know if I’ll be doing much travelling this year (aside from the monkey-fun in Cambodia last week and a month or two of as yet undefined summer fun somewhere away from China). I probably could use an oath for maintaining sanity as a long term expat who thinks she’s also a travel blogger. A deeply unpopular one at that (or maybe that’s the wrong word- let’s say, an SEO-challenged blogger!)
    maryanne recently posted..Brief Notes on 15 Days in Cambodia part 1

    • On February 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm Sally said:

      I actually haven’t spent nearly as much quality time on the couch as I’d like… but once I get my wifi hooked up & I can roam around the room with my laptop, I’m planning on sitting on that thing 24-7!

  15. On February 22, 2011 at 6:05 am Phil said:

    holy crap that is a sweet couch. I also love your oath, both the revised version and the original. I can’t read to read about your interactions with mongolian horses. You know there are bactrian camels out there, right?
    Phil recently posted..How to get a Cheap Plane Ticket from the US to Africa

    • On February 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm Sally said:

      Camels? In Mongolia? I had no idea! But I can’t say my camel knowledge is anywhere as extensive as yours! Can I ride one of those things? And, would you say, they are more or less dangerous than a Mongolian horse?

  16. On February 22, 2011 at 6:31 am Kelly said:

    Welcome to China!

    Can’t wait to read about what you get up to, and what you think of our Oreo flavours.
    Kelly recently posted..Riled Up Riding the Rails

    • On February 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm Sally said:

      I’ve had the vanilla ice cream flavored ones — they pretty much tasted like regular Oreos, I felt, but with a weird cooling after-effect. I haven’t been able to find many interesting options on campus — but I’m going to have to check out what they have at the grocery store next time I’m there! I may have to try all the flavors & write a blog post about them…

  17. On February 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm ChinaMatt said:

    Cheap, clashy clothes? You’ll fit right in in China.

    Wish I could move back to China. It’s been two years and I miss it for some reason.
    ChinaMatt recently posted..An Idiot Abroad

  18. On February 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm Amy said:

    Your bangs were that high too? Glad it wasn’t just me.

    I’m digging that couch. Couches are high on the list of things I miss this year being away. Enjoy yours.
    Amy recently posted..The Frenchies were here

    • On February 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm Sally said:

      Yes, I really missed having a couch last year. I had plenty of beds and, while I was housesitting, I had floor cushions, but not a couch. I’m enjoying being reconnected with my favorite form of furniture!

  19. On February 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm Ayngelina said:

    What a great post Sally, I love how you foolishly think you have avoided popularity but really you are the Winona of the group who is too cool to be even bothered with popularity.

    Just try to keep the shoplifting under wraps.
    Ayngelina recently posted..What I’ve learned from slinging pisco sours

    • On February 22, 2011 at 10:08 pm Sally said:

      Ha ha! I had no idea I was the Winona. That’s awesome. And, no, I was totally going to BUY that sweater, I was just keeping it in my coat to keep it warm….

  20. On February 23, 2011 at 12:53 pm Sid said:

    LOL! You’re adorable. I can totally understand why ppl love your blog.

    Loved this line, “Birds and bacterial infections, my friends, that’s what adventure is all about!” It’s actually my gchat status now =)
    Sid recently posted..Someone like you – Adele

  21. On February 24, 2011 at 1:53 am Uncle Ed said:

    Your Pagoda sunset is now my screen background, best wishes. I will be growing baby trees from seed that came from very close to where you are.

  22. On February 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm Lauren Rains @ The Mad To Live said:

    I spent a year living in China and it was the best decision I ever made. yea it was difficult and yea there were struggles b/c its crazy over there, but it was so worth it. I left that country a new person.
    I returned a few months ago and while I don’t think I’ll be moving back there, I’m already planning my next long-term stay abroad.

    Oh and being I’m from NJ I promise you that the Jersey Shore is so not how it is like in NJ! But if you do go to Seaside Heights down the shore in July, sadly, it’s all true 🙁

    This is my 1st time at your blog and I’m happy to be hear! Female nomad chicks rock!!! 🙂
    Lauren Rains @ The Mad To Live recently posted..The 10 LAWS You Must Never Break In Order To Avoid Changing The World

    • On February 25, 2011 at 12:39 am Sally said:

      I’m actually surprised at how easy China has been so far… maybe I was just so scared by what everyone had told me or maybe I’m just used to the craziness after living & traveling in Asia for 4 years. Plus, I have to admit my situation is pretty cushy — I have a lot of foreign coworkers around to help me out with things I don’t understand. It’s definitely more challenging than Thailand, where everyone could speak a little English, but it’s kind of a fun challenging (of course, I’ve only been here a week — so my optimistic rosy glow my wear off soon!)

  23. On February 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm Heather said:

    Will there be more talk of cookies or have you given those up in China?!

    Hope the teaching is going well so far! Fridays off?! How great! Do we know where in China you are – not sure if you havent mentioned it or if I missed it.
    Heather recently posted..Burgers in Sydney

    • On February 25, 2011 at 12:34 am Sally said:

      I am trying to eat a bit more healthily, but I doubt I’ll be able to give up cookies all together. After all cookies are kind of my “thing”!

      I’m in Wuxi, a city about an hour away from Shanghai. It has a population of about 4 million people — it’s practically a small town!

  24. On February 25, 2011 at 3:22 am Spencer said:

    I spent 6 weeks travelling in China and I absolutely loved it! The food in particular was amazing. I am sure that you will enjoy living there.
    Spencer recently posted..Hostal Nicolas De Ovando Santo Domingo

  25. On February 25, 2011 at 3:45 am Megan said:

    SWEET couch, lady!

    I just have one question: How much do you miss cheese right now? Or did you gorge yourself so much you don’t miss it yet?

    That’s two questions, but still.
    Megan recently posted..WTF What THE! Friday Part 19

    • On February 25, 2011 at 5:41 am Sally said:

      Funny you should ask about the cheese (Well, not funny per se seeing as that’s a typical topic of conversation between the two of us)… I was at the grocery store last night & happened upon a small block of cheese & I really, really, REALLY wanted to buy it. It cost about 4 times as much as an average dinner, and I’m trying to be somewhat budget-conscious these days (yeah, we’ll see how long that lasts!) so I didn’t buy it. And, oh man, I lived to regret that decision. I had to eat dry crackers! What kind of animal have I become? Next time, I’m buying that cheese…

  26. On March 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm Choi Kum Fook said:

    Miss Sally, as Mr. Wan said, prime minister of China, most Chinese people are friendly. Try to enjoy yourself in China! Why worry?!! Viewing from picture, the couch much better than the farm one. It looks more beautiful and comfortable. I hope you love and enjoy it !

  27. On March 7, 2011 at 1:42 pm choi kum fook said:

    Miss Sally, I am sorry for that. May be.I am too old for the memory. It was a couch, in narrow dinning room instead of table now just beside your sleeping room, before you came. Ha.Ha. Just forget it!

  28. On March 8, 2011 at 7:22 am Camels & Chocolate said:

    I’m sorry, but my mind is still stuck on PRETZEL M&MS. Thanks to you, I’ll probably be making a run to the Walgreens on the corner. When I get there, no doubt, I will also be distracted by the Easter candy aisle and debate over whether I actually want pretzel M&Ms or would rather have a Reese’s Easter egg or a Cadbury egg. The reality: I’ll most likely walk out with all.

    (Oh! But congrats on moving to China!)
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..On Where I Am at the Moment


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