Yeah, well, that doesn’t apply to me so much.
I make a lot of mistakes. Like, a lot of them.
If to err is human, then I must be some kind of super-human because I’m, like, really super good at erring.
Of course, every time I do something stupid, I think to myself afterwards, “Wow. I’m certainly never going to do that again.”
Then, about two weeks later, I do that again.
Maybe I’m just a really slow learner, and one day I will eventually learn from my mistakes – like when I’m eighty. Or when I’m dead.
Or it’s possible I’m stuck in some Greek myth where I’m doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again for the amusement of the gods. (If that’s the case, where is my long, flowy robe? Because I think I could totally rock that look. And where, I’d like to know, has Adonis been keeping himself?)
Unfortunately, my tendency to make mistakes doesn’t take a vacation when I take a vacation. No matter how much I travel, I still make a lot of stupid travel mistakes. Like, a lot of them.My recent trip to Xi’an was no exception, of course. In the five short days that I was away, I probably made five kabillion mistakes. (This is just a rough estimate as I didn’t keep track. It’s kind of hard to count your mistakes when you make so many of them… and when you’re not particularly good at counting because you made the mistake of not taking math class very seriously when you were younger.)
To give myself some credit, a few of the mistakes I made on my trip were new for me. I had no idea I was making a mistake until it was too late.
For example, I made the mistake of picking up the newspaper one day. If you’re ever traveling or living in China, you really don’t want to read the newspaper. Like, ever. Reading the news in China is like reading a really detailed list of all the ways that China is planning on killing you.
In the one paper that I picked up, there were articles about the recent high-speed train crash, a bus fire, subway overcrowding, a scandal involving tainted pork, widespread pesticide misuse and bottled water contamination. Considering there isn’t much freedom of the press in this country, I imagine there are heaps of other ways China is plotting my death, I’m just not allowed to read about them.
After briefly skimming through the paper and learning all the ways I was going to die, I promptly put it down and resolved to never pick up another paper again while I’m living in China.
We’ll see how that works out for me.
Honestly, though, most of the mistakes I made during my trip were mistakes I’ve made countless times before on other trips. In fact, I’ve made these mistakes so many times I wouldn’t even call them mistakes anymore.
I’d just call them bad habits.
1. Thinking I can walk to my destination because it looks “walk-able” on the map.I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this — mostly because I’ve blocked the memories of these times out of my brain. These are bad memories filled with sweat, tears, blisters and more than a few heat-induced hallucinations.
Sure, walking may not sound like such a bad thing to do because, hey, walking is good for you, right? And walking to my destination wouldn’t be a bad thing if I didn’t possess the following characteristics:
- I have absolutely no sense of direction.
- I’m really bad at reading maps.
- I have a tendency to wear stupid shoes.
After hopping off the airport shuttle in downtown Xi’an, I was accosted by a number of taxi drivers more than willing to drive me to my hostel.
But I decided I’d walk instead. I had spent the whole day sitting in taxis and buses and on the airplane. I figured I could use a little exercise.
Besides, I wasn’t exactly feeling a lot of love for Chinese taxi drivers at that moment. Earlier in the day, a taxi driver in Wuxi had dropped me off at the train station rather than the bus station causing me to miss my airport shuttle. What better way to show those taxi drivers that I didn’t need them and their stupid taxis than by walking to the hostel by myself? Yep, that’d certainly show them!
Judging from my map, the distance from the shuttle stop to the hostel looked totally walk-able. Mind you, I was not using an official tourist map of Xi’an at the time as I didn’t have an official tourist map of Xi’an at the time. Instead, I was using the map from the hostel website, but not a print-out of the map or anything. Nope, I was using a rendering of the map, which I had drawn in my notebook.
It looked like this:
In case you haven’t guessed already, things did not work out so well for me during my little walking expedition. I spent about an hour wandering up and down the same street with my luggage until I finally admitted defeat and started hailing taxis. (You win this time, taxi drivers!)
2. Not negotiating the fare before using an unmetered taxi/rickshaw/motorcycle taxi/horse-drawn carriage/camel/whateverUnfortunately, by the time I gave up on walking, it was pretty late in the evening and almost impossible to find a metered taxi or really any reliable vehicle that was willing to take me to the hostel.
So I did something I really didn’t want to do (because I know my Mom is totally not going to be happy about this when she finds out): I took a motorcycle taxi. (And, in case my Mom asks, I totally wore a helmet and full body armor.)
Prior to getting on the back of the motorcycle taxi, I asked the driver how much the ride would cost. I thought he told me 3 RMB or about fifty cents. This made sense to me since I remembered reading on the hostel’s website that it would cost 6 RMB in taxi fare to get from the shuttle stop to the hostel. Since I’d only be traveling on two wheels, it should only cost half the price, right?
When we arrived at the hostel, I discovered the driver actually wanted 30 RMB or about five dollars.
By that point, I was just happy to be at my destination, so I forked over the money without a fight. After weaving through traffic on the motorbike and barely escaping being crushed under the wheels of a few tour buses, I was, frankly, surprised I had survived the ride. Five dollars felt like a small price to pay for making it to my hostel alive.
(Ha, ha, just kidding, Mom! The drive was totally safe. In fact, thing’s were so chill, the driver smoked a cigarette the whole way. See? Totally safe! You know, except for the secondhand smoke.)
3. Not researching where I’m going.Before visiting Xi’an, I didn’t really know what there was to do in the city besides going to see the Terracotta Warriors. And I could sum up my knowledge of the Terracotta Warriors like this:
- There are warriors.
- They are made out of terracotta.
After spending an entire day at the Terracotta Warrior Museum and Mausoleum, the extent of knowledge went something like this:
- There are warriors.
- They are made out of terracotta
- There are also some horses. These, I believe, are also made out of terracotta. But don’t quote me on that.
So, yeah, I probably could have done a little research or at least skimmed through the Wikipedia page before my trip, so I knew exactly what it was I was looking at (besides, you know, the obvious terracotta-ness).
Luckily, on the second day of our trip, my friend and I managed to join a group tour of the city with the alumni group from her college.
While I’m usually not a group tour kind of girl as they don’t tend to allow enough time for snack breaks and naps, I really enjoyed my time on the tour and managed to learn a lot. The good thing about going on a group tour is that there is a tour guide there who tells you about the places you are going to visit before you even visit them. It’s kind of like Wikipedia, but without the reading… or the made-up bits!
4. Not listening to people when they give me advice.When you tell people in China that you’re going to take a trip, usually the first question they ask you is if you’ve booked your ticket yet. If you haven’t, they like to follow this up by telling you that you really should have booked your ticket already.
I have heard this advice more than a few times, and it is very good advice. There are a lot of people in China. Like, a lot of them. And, on any given day, about a gazillion-million of these people are traveling. It’s a good idea to book your ticket ahead of time, especially during the holidays, to ensure you get a seat and you don’t have to stow yourself in a boxcar or ride on top of the plane or something.
But, despite having had a number of Chinese people tell me how important it is to book stuff in advance, I, honestly, haven’t gotten any better at booking stuff in advance.While I had flown to Xi’an, my friend and I were planning to take the twenty-hour, overnight, sleeper train back to Shanghai. When we told the receptionist at our hostel that we needed to book tickets for the train, he promptly told us we really should have booked tickets already.
Of course, he was right.
When we arrived at the ticket office, we discovered that all the tickets for the sleeper cars were completely sold out. The man at the counter informed us that the only thing they had available was something called a “hard seat.” I didn’t know what a hard seat was, but, judging from the name, it sounded, well, hard.
The last time I took an overnight train, I was going from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. It was only about a twelve-hour ride, but it was a sleepless twelve hours spent on a rather uncomfortable vinyl seat. I vaguely remember stumbling off the train, rumpled and disoriented and in desperate need of sleep, and vowing to never do that kind of thing again.
As this memory flashed through my mind, I looked at the man behind the counter and said, “Two hard seat tickets, please.”
My friend looked doubtful.
The man at the counter smirked at me and I’m pretty sure he even laughed a little bit.
But I was undaunted. “Come on,” I told my friend, “Twenty hours! On a train! On something called a ‘hard seat’! It will be an adventure!”
Which brings me to the next mistake I tend to make over and over again…
5. Doing something because it sounds like an “adventure” even though I’m pretty sure it’s going to be hell and I’m going to regret it… that is, if I make it out alive.Of course, this was not the first time I willingly signed up for something that I knew I would probably hate because, hey, it’s an adventure! (And, just imagine the blog post I’d be able to write!) Remember the time I spent a month sanding off my fingertips in Malaysia? Or the time I volunteered at a hostel in Laos? Or the time I booked a solo beach vacation on the most romantic tropical island on Earth?
Luckily, my friend is not nearly as delusional as I am. (Plus, she doesn’t have a blog, so she doesn’t really understand the concept of putting yourself through torture just so you’ll have something to blog about.)
The following day, my friend convinced me that taking the train was probably not the best idea. I agreed, we returned our tickets and bought plane tickets instead.
In the end, this was a really good decision. The plane tickets cost us quite a bit more, but it was a small price to pay. I’m sure neither our kneecaps nor our friendship would have made it through that twenty-hour train ride.
That is if we made it out alive.(Although I think we can all agree that the train ride would have totally made for awesome blog post, am I right or am I right? Not to worry, though, as I’m sure I’ll manage to sign up for some kind of “adventure” on my next trip only so I can have a great story for the blog. God forbid I ever start learning from mistakes, then I would never have anything to write about on this thing!)