Bad Karma (or Why I Shouldn’t Be a Show-off)

August 2, 2011

I mentioned a few posts back, that in the third grade I chipped my front tooth while hanging off the merry-go-round at school. This was in an attempt to show off my daredevilry skills — daredevilry skills that, sadly, I did not actually possess at the time (or now). I also didn’t happen to possess any upper arm strength at the time (or, ahem, now). So this little stunt resulted in my losing my balance and planting my face into a big metal bar.

This all happened on the afternoon of Halloween, so later that night I couldn’t eat any candy and had to just sit around watching my friends eating their candy. (This, by the way, would make for a totally effective torture method should you, say, be looking for a totally effective torture method. You know, in case you need to get secrets out of Russian spies or your mom or something. “Okay, okay, I’ll tell you. Just give me a Reese’s cup already!”)

I still consider that whole tooth incident my very own personal message from the Universe.

The message?

Don’t be a show-off.

Frankly, with all due respect to the Universe, I don’t believe this was really a life lesson I needed to learn, as I have shockingly few talents that are capable of being shown off – at least in public. I can’t dance or do cartwheels. I can’t sing very well or play musical instruments. (And the one and only time I did attempt to play a musical instrument in public I was reminded, tragically, of this fact.) I can’t sew or cross-stitch. I don’t juggle or do magic tricks or understand algebra. Heck, I can’t even be trusted to walk in a straight line most days.

The few things that I am good at are better kept behind closed doors. I can eat potato chips at what I’m pretty sure is a world record rate. I can watch the DVD box set of an entire eight-season television series in less time than it takes most people to give birth. I can spend days eating nothing but microwave popcorn and peanut butter straight from the jar if it means I can avoid leaving my apartment.

Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be getting any calls from reality television producers anytime soon, unless they’re casting for “America’s Next Top Shut-in” or “So You Think You Can Talk to Cats.”

But, whatever.

Lesson learned, Universe.

I shouldn’t show off.

Or you’ll break my teeth.

(True story: a few years ago, I was going on a first date with this super hot guy, who was, like, so hot you couldn’t even look at him directly or you’d burn your retinas and probably scar your face. The same day as our date, I chipped the cap off my front tooth and had to beg off of work and run to the dentist’s office to get it fixed because I didn’t want to show up to my date looking like mountain folk. I’m sure this was the Universe’s way of getting back at me for bragging about my hot date with the super hot guy to all my friends. But it shouldn’t count as showing off if none of your friends actually believe you, should it?)

Despite having learned my lesson again and again about braggery and show-offery, it’s possible I did get a little bit boastful in my last post.

Remember the other week when I was all like, “Living in China is totally easy even if you don’t speak much Chinese! The locals love it when you point and grunt! They totally get that”?

And then a few of you were like, “I don’t know about that, Sally. I was in China and it was pretty difficult.”

And I was like, “Wow. I must be some kind of super genius traveler person because this stuff is totally no problem for me.” (Okay, so I didn’t actually say that out loud to any of you because that would be rude and would probably make you feel really bad about yourself. But maybe I thought it a few times. And wrote it down in my journal. And used it as my Facebook status update.)

Well, the very next morning after I wrote that post, the Universe schooled me.

Big time.

You see, that morning, I was leaving for my trip to Xi’an. I hadn’t been able to get a plane ticket directly from Wuxi, so, instead, I bought a ticket from the Shanghai Pudong airport to Xi’an. This would require me to catch the two-hour airport shuttle bus to Pudong from the downtown Wuxi bus station. I had already purchased my airport shuttle bus ticket a few days before my trip; all I needed to do on the day of my flight was grab a taxi to the bus station and then hop on the bus to the airport.

Easy, right?

Of course, I smugly reasoned, this would be especially easy for a super genius traveler person like myself who can survive in China on little more than ten words of vocabulary and a series of questionable hand gestures.

No problem. I owned this trip.

I should probably mention here that my limited word bank of Mandarin does not include the word “bus station.” But, I figured this didn’t matter as I possessed a bus ticket, so I could just show that to the taxi driver rather than having to give him explicit instructions. I wasn’t able to actually read the bus ticket as it was in Chinese, but I was pretty sure somewhere on that ticket it said, “Bus ticket” or “Use this ticket to get on a bus” and maybe “Hey, taxi driver, buses leave from bus stations.” Or, you know, something to that effect.

After leaving my apartment and exiting the gate of the campus where I live, I discovered a lone taxi sitting there.


As if he knew I would be coming.

Like the Universe TOLD HIM TO DO THAT.

I showed the driver my ticket. He squinted at it and asked me some questions in Chinese, which I couldn’t comprehend, so I just stood there and grinned like an idiot, which is how I respond to pretty much all questions asked me in Chinese.

I didn’t need to say anything.

I’d just let the ticket do all the talking.

After the driver seemed to understand where we were going, I hopped in the car and settled in for what is usually a thirty-minute ride into town. I had an hour before my bus was scheduled to depart, so this wasn’t going to be a problem.

Even when the taxi driver pulled up to a gas station to buy gas and a pack of cigarettes and spend some quality time chatting to the gas pump girl, I wasn’t stressed. We had time to kill. Who wants to be at the bus station early? Only anxious, inexperienced newbie travelers do that kind of thing, right? I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t a newbie. I owned this trip, remember?

And then the taxi started going off in some crazy direction I didn’t recognize. And the thirty-minute trip turned into a forty-five-minute trip. And I started to wonder if maybe instead of a bus ticket, I’d actually purchased a ticket to, say, a factory tour in some farflung city or possibly hell.

Finally, with only ten minutes to spare, we arrived at a large, glass-covered building I didn’t recognize. The driver smiled at me triumphantly, grabbed my money and ushered me out of his cab.

The building didn’t look like the downtown bus station at all, but maybe it was just a side of the station I’d never seen. I had only been there once; it wasn’t like I was an expert on the place.

Or maybe the airport shuttle left from a different bus station – a bus station that looked unsettlingly like a train station. Because this building looked a lot like a train station, to be honest — especially with the big sign over the door that said, ahem, “Train Station.”

In English.

Perfect English.

But, you know, I’ve lived in Asia a long time. You can’t just go around trusting every little thing you see in English on this continent. That would just be a newbie mistake. Just the other week, the seat cover on a mini-van told me that it loved me, but you don’t see me planning to move in with the thing. (Not without a ring on my finger, Mr. Seat Cover. Not without a ring.)

Marching myself into the building, I headed directly to the information desk, where I  handed the woman behind the counter my bus ticket and asked her where I should go to catch my shuttle.

She just stared at me.

She must not speak any English, I thought to myself. No problem. I’d just use my handy-dandy hand gestures – the very same hand gestures I’d bragged to all of you about on my blog. You know, the ones that have made my past five months in China such a breeze. The ones that only someone of my caliber of traveling know-how could possibly possess.

I launched into a full-body performance – one in which I played both the part of the bus as well as the bus driver. There was even a moment there in the middle where I was pretty sure I was able to express the torment the bus felt in regards to its carbon emissions. A crowd formed. I briefly wondered if they gave out Oscar’s for Hand Gestures because I, obviously, deserved one.

And, then the woman at the information desk spoke.

In English.

Perfect English.

“This is a bus ticket,” she said. “You are at the train station.”


That certainly explained a few things – like, you know, the whole sign over the door thing.

“Okay,” I said. “How do I get to the bus station? I can just walk there, right?”

I mistakenly thought I was at the downtown train station, which is conveniently located across the street from the bus station. While the building I was in certainly didn’t look like the downtown train station, maybe it was just a side of the station I’d never seen before. You know, because I’m no expert on the place.

“Well, how did you get here now?” she asked.

(I can only imagine that judging from the look on her face, she was fully prepared to hear me respond, “By space ship.”)

When I told her that I had taken a taxi there, she informed me I’d need to catch another taxi to the bus station. “It’s far away,” she said, “Very far.” (From the look in her eyes, I think she was about to say, “But not as far away as that planet you just came from today.” But she held back. Probably because she was worried I could shoot laser beams from my fingertips or something.)

I headed out of the building and found a new taxi driver – this time one that seemed to understand the concept of bus tickets and, you know, the fact that buses can usually be found at bus stations and not, say, train stations.

The bus station was, indeed, very far away. By the time we got there, I had missed my shuttle, but was able to get a ticket for the next one, which would arrive at the airport exactly one hour before my departure. That is if there wasn’t any traffic along the way.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

I mean, this is China we’re talking about. There’s pretty much always traffic – there’s even traffic where you wouldn’t expect it, like on the sidewalk.

The bus pulled up at the airport thirty minutes before my flight. I had just enough time to run full-tilt to the special check-in counter, check my luggage, grab my boarding pass, and sprint through security. I got to my departure gate in time to hear them tell me over the PA system that I should really be on the plane already. I squeezed on to the flight right as they were closing the gate… and right as I was having what was most likely my third heart attack.

I should probably mention here that when I get really nervous or upset or, say, suffer three heart attacks in a row, I break out in hives. So when I boarded the plane my entire chest, face and upper arms were covered in this bright red, angry rash. Oh, and I happened to be wearing a tank top that day, which really helped show off my scary, new skin condition.

I did not look like a super genius traveler person at that point.

I looked like a mess – a potentially contagious mess.

I also did not feel like a super genius traveler person. I felt like an idiot. I felt like an idiot for not knowing the word for bus station in Chinese. I felt like an idiot for walking into a train station thinking that it was a bus station.

I felt like an idiot for being, well, an idiot.

I also felt like an idiot for bragging about how easy China has been for me. Sure, China’s easy when you don’t leave your apartment. But, it turns out, China’s not such a breeze when you actually want to go somewhere – like outside of your apartment.

I’d love to say that the rest of my trip went off without so much of a hiccup, but I’d be lying. There were a few hiccups. And there was a little burp when we went to reserve our overnight train tickets back to Shanghai. And, well, I got a pretty nasty case of food poisoning at the end of my trip. (I’m sure this was just the Universe’s punishment for my bragging about my “digestive tract made of steel” on my About page.)

Not that it was a bad trip – it was a really great trip and I got to see a lot of great things and hang out with some really great people.

But it wasn’t always an easy trip.

Even for a super genius traveler person like myself.

(Ha, ha, just kidding, Universe. I promise, no more bragging or showing off. Just, uh, don’t break my teeth. Because I hear they don’t exactly use much Novocain in China, and I’m so not ready for that.)


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

  1. On August 2, 2011 at 11:01 am Terri said:

    This post was so funny!! It seems I have “instant kama” as well. If i say something mean, I stub my toe a few minutes later. LOL Stuff like that happens all the time to me. Which apparently means Im not getting it.

  2. On August 2, 2011 at 11:19 am Joseph said:

    wow…that’s quite an adventure there…however think how it would have unfolded if there was NO English sign saying it’s a train station and the lady at the counter couldn’t speak English…don’t blame the Universe, blame the Chinese for not speaking English 😛
    Glad you enjoyed the trip, however the food poisoning bit is not so enjoyable – stick to chips, they are a safe bet 😉

  3. On August 2, 2011 at 11:22 am MaryAnne said:

    China is indeed easy when you don’t leave your flat (or indeed the French concession in my case, which is pretty laowai friendly). Sometimes I think I’m okay with living in china… That is, until I try to go somewhere or do something. Oh and speaking of karma, I think we’re getting serious payback for something bad we must have done but have no idea what it was. At least you’ve identified your source!

  4. On August 2, 2011 at 11:43 am Sarah said:

    Dude, it’s totally cool to admit that you are a super genius travel person.

    But you gotta add in something about that chipped tooth. You know, for the street cred.

    Something more along the lines of super genius HARDCORE travel person would be more accurate, I think.

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:45 am Sally said:

      But I’m NOT a super genius traveler person. I have a crappy sense of direction and always get lost. I don’t speak any of the language and tend to make an ass out of myself when I try. I don’t read enough about the places I go to so I generally have no clue what’s going on. I hole myself up in my hotel room on regular occasion. And I’ve been known to throw a few jet-lag-induced tantrums. So as a traveler, I pretty much suck. BUT I’m a pretty good hermit. Can I brag about being a super genius shut-in person?

  5. On August 2, 2011 at 11:57 am TravelMaus said:

    Sallly you always know how to make me laugh until my oatmeal comes out my nose! ( Don’t try to image that)….I know all about bad karma. Every time I look forward to something…I mean really look forward to something, and brag about it,… something always goes wrong. Absolutely no deviation from that fact! At least now I don’t feel so alone! Great post!

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:41 am Sally said:

      Oatmeal? Out of your nose? That sounds painful.
      I have this superstition (possibly stemming from my wary attitude towards the Universe) that whatever I imagine will happen could never possibly happen. So rather than imagine good stuff happening (because I don’t want to jinx the good stuff), I try to think up all the bad things that could happen so as to stop the bad stuff from happening. So rather than saying, “My trip is going to be awesome! I’m going to meet amazing people and fall in love and dance on tables,” I think to myself “I will probably die!” And, you know what, my little trick has totally worked — usually stuff ends up pretty good in the end and I have yet to die. (Knock on wood!) You should try that.

  6. On August 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm ayngelina said:

    Hilarious Sally. I remember once asking a cab driver in Mexico to take me to the bus station but he didnt understand my poor pronouciation so I wondered if I was using the wrong word for bus station so I just started guessing by putting ‘eh’ on the end of english words.

    He still didn’t understand.

    So I took out my notebook and drew him a bunch of buses around a building.


    So I got out. I got into the next cab and asked the same thing and he took me there. I think the other guy was just screwing with me, he probably spoke English too.

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:35 am Sally said:

      What? How could he not get the picture of the buses? Use a little imagination, man!
      I realize that, ultimately, this whole episode was pretty much my fault for a) not knowing how to say “bus station” in Mandarin & b) not stopping the taxi when he drove off into Crazy Land. But, I still can’t figure out how the taxi driver didn’t catch on to the fact that someone holding a bus ticket would probably want to go to the bus station. And my ticket was so obviously not a train ticket — the train tickets look totally different here. So, really, I think this guy deserves SOME of the blame… just like your taxi driver deserves some blame for not knowing what the heck a drawing of a bus means.

  7. On August 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm The Travel Chica said:

    This is so funny! Especially the part where you did all the acting and the woman spoke perfect English. Sorry to laugh at your pain, but I don’t want to piss off the universe or anything.

  8. On August 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm Allison said:

    This post is hilarious. Seriously hilarious. After your mandarin post I was really really wondering just how much China has changed in the 6 years since I’d last been – at that time I had a vocabulary of about 300 mandarin words and still struggled to eat, sleep, and get from point a to point b!

    I’m glad you made your flight, otherwise this would have been a much less hilarious and much more awful story!

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:31 am Sally said:

      Yeah, apparently if you actually get off your couch while living in China, you run into complications. Who knew? As I was sitting on the plane trying to recover from my heart attacks, I couldn’t help thinking of how I should really shut up already about China being so easy. Heck, I couldn’t even get out of my city without 4 hours of frustration, 2 taxis, 1 bus and crowds of people just wondering what planet I’d descended from.

  9. On August 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm Dyanne@TravelnLass said:

    Seriously. Among your very BEST!

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:28 am Sally said:

      Aww, thanks. It was a really fun post to write… if not to experience. (Although after it all happened, I did think to myself, ‘I can’t wait to blog about this.”)

  10. On August 2, 2011 at 7:07 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    Oh gosh I have had SO many lost in translations moments while traveling!!! I think I would have aged a couple of years after this experience.

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:27 am Sally said:

      It was definitely a learning experience that’s for sure. Although I have a tendency to forget the lessons I learn and just repeat my mistakes at a later date, so we’ll see how everything goes the next time I need to catch a bus!

  11. On August 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm penguinlady said:

    When my hubby and I went to Japan, we decided to take a train from Tokyo to Nikko. We’re decent travellers, and I know a smidgen of Japanese (enough to say please, thank you and 2 tickets please). The only timetable the service guy had was entirely in Kanji – which I had no hope of reading. Luckily, though, he circled the stop we needed to reach, while saying something, rapidly, in Japanese, that neither my husband or I had any hope of understanding. But, we found our train, boarded and took the very lovely trip out of the city. I amused myself by matching the Kanji on my timetable to the stations that we passed, counting down to the station where we needed to get off… except… suddenly, we were past our destination! There had been an announcement, in Japanese, that we didn’t understand. Apparently, we had to make a connection! We jumped off at the next station, went back 3 stops, and finally got on the right train to Nikko. It was totally worth it, though, and gave us a good travelling story. Sometimes you get hit hard with the Karma stick, but it’s just a reminder from the Universe!

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:26 am Sally said:

      Ahh, the missed trains, communication mishaps and other disasters always do make for the BEST travel stories, don’t they? I honestly don’t know what I would blog about if I actually was able to do this travel thing right. 🙂

  12. On August 2, 2011 at 9:11 pm Ken C. said:

    Ah, ha! The dangers of being a complacent traveler in exotic China. You leave the sanctuary of your apartment, the comfort of your couch, and seek adventure?! Prepare to be amazed!

    The most amazing part of your story is when you enter the building with the large “Train Station” sign, walk up to the “Train Station” counter, and give the “Train Station” clerk your BUS TICKET. Priceless.

    I, myself, am not an expert China traveler like you…but I would have done EXACTLY the same thing.

    Except for the hives, Unbrave Girl…you are always one to gild the lily…as if this tale couldn’t get more comical, .

    I’m sure it wasn’t funny while it was happening TO YOU, but, in retrospect, I’m sure you don’t mind us having a chuckle or two at your expense [or rolling in the aisles laughing at your misadventures?!].

    I hope you have more to say about this trip to Xi’an…

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:24 am Sally said:

      Oh, definitely, there will be tales from Xi’an as I assure you my general idiocy did not end the moment I got on that plane. I was actually going to use this story as a short anecdote for my Xi’an post but it became something of its own monster…

  13. On August 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm ordinary malaysian said:

    Karma is really NOTHING BUT just the manifestation of our fears that we do not deserve the good things in life. But in your case, unbravegirl, I really think it was karma in the traditional sense at work for not showing the Universe due respect. You must really be a little less unbrave or at least try to next time. LOL.

    • On August 3, 2011 at 5:22 am Sally said:

      I think I show the Universe plenty of respect… the problem is when I show myself too much respect. 🙂 Obviously, the Universe is trying to keep me humble.

  14. On August 3, 2011 at 12:30 am Erik said:

    People wonder why I am so critical of myself?

    This article is why.

    I’d rather be wrong then to have the universe show me how wrong I am.

  15. On August 3, 2011 at 3:11 am Lauren said:

    Haha, great post; I totally empathize with you! Glad you made it to Xi’an in the end. Guess that’s part of the fun of living in China, to have stories like this to tell.

  16. On August 3, 2011 at 8:44 am Alex said:

    I will always remember this story these Australians with very thick accents told me of arriving in Phuket and asking the driver to take them to a hostel. He grew alarmed drove with extreme urgency to the nearest hospital.

    Also, I think that seat cover might actually love “poo”…..?

    • On August 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm Sally said:

      Ha ha, that story about the hospital is great. What did they do once they got there?
      Yes, a few people did say the seat cover looked like it was saying it loved poo, but I swear it said “you” (or maybe I was just believing what I wanted to believe? it was a mighty handsome seat cover.)

  17. On August 3, 2011 at 8:55 am Whitney said:

    Great post. Also, I would totally watch a show called ‘So You Think You Can Talk to Cats’.

  18. On August 3, 2011 at 9:43 am Heather said:

    It’s good we get schooled by the Universe every once in a while 🙂 Glad you made it on time and are on the other side of the food poisoning (yikes).

    I am happy to see you got the tooth fixed before date with retina burning hot guy.

    • On August 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm Sally said:

      Well, he turned out to be… umm… how shall I put this delicately… CRAZY PANTS. But, man, was he hot. So sad. (But my dates with him made for a really great story. It’s going in the book, let me tell you!)

  19. On August 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm Steph said:

    I totally feel you on this one. Doing just about ANYTHING out of the ordinary in China is a giant time consuming hassle. I felt like I spent half my traveling life there nervously consulting my watch and urging whatever mode of transportation I was on to go faster.

    Sorry you got food poisoning in Xi’an! I did a couple times too- I think it was all that delisious street food. Then again I got worse food poisoning last week in Mexico than I ever did in China- so maybe the world is just a scary, delicious place?

    • On August 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm Sally said:

      Actually I didn’t get the food poisoning until Shanghai, and I most likely got it from the food at this really good (and popular among the tourists & locals) restaurant near People’s Park. And it even had one of those smiley-faces for its health & sanitation ratings. Such a disappointment! Just goes to show you that you can pretty much get sick anywhere.
      Hope you’re feeling better! That’s a bummer that you got sick in Mexico. I would hate to have to take a break from eating guacamole!

  20. On August 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm Erica said:

    I almost feel like being in Central/South America is cheating a wee bit, especially since I can speak Spanish. I know when we were in Japan I nearly had a few full blow panic attacks from being lost. While many people speak English, most just pretend they don’t at all as to not lose face when stumbling on it.

    P.S. I want pics of hot man. 😛

  21. On August 3, 2011 at 7:01 pm Matt said:

    “So you Think You Can Talk To Cats”… good one!!

  22. On August 6, 2011 at 1:05 am Audrey said:

    Hahaha, hilarious read! I’m glad you were able to make your flight. So…have you learned the Chinese word for bus station yet? 😉

  23. On August 9, 2011 at 9:25 pm Ceri said:

    Awww, what are you like? I loved this. Made me laugh so much but I was so engrossed in that “Will she make it to the airport in time?” thought – Was like I was watching some cheesy 80s movie. Haha.

    • On August 10, 2011 at 3:59 am Sally said:

      I hope that in the cheesy 80s movie version of this story there was a cute boy sitting next to me on the plane (preferably one who doesn’t mind a girl with hives).

  24. On August 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm Ali said:

    As always, hilarious! After all that, I can’t believe you actually still made your flight. Also, I find it odd that there would be anything on your bus ticket that would make the taxi driver think “train station.” In any case, I’m glad you made it with all your teeth in tact!

  25. On October 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm Tricia said:

    Girl, if I don’t show some self-discipline and get off this amazingly funny and interesting blog of yours, before I know it, my kid’s gonna be in college! Did I mention he’s like 4 months old?
    new mommy and new unbrave girl follower


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