My Arrested Departure from China

I sit between 2 officers who neither look at me, nor speak to me. We race through traffic, with lights on, as though we are in some sort of emergency. We nearly crash once. 

It starts to hit me then. This is really happening.  This is the turn my life is taking.

10 minutes earlier, I was on stage, finishing the chorus to Zombie by The Cranberries. I closed my eyes while I played the chords and took a vocal break to let my guitarist shine. When I opened them, a moment later, there were a dozen immigration officers telling us to stop playing. Some were in plain clothes.  Others were in uniform. None looked friendly.

Moments after this video was taken, the police were in front of me.

He walked up to the stage and called me by name. The wrong name, but close enough.

“Maria, you’re coming with me”.

I put down my guitar and tried to call over the owner of the bar, Jack. He made eye contact with me, and promptly looked away.  He backed into a corner.

My drummer called over to our band manager, who was in the audience. The police noticed him, and all swarmed him. He’d recently had surgery, and I could hear him telling them not to push him, he was in pain. They continued to push.

I jumped off stage and walked over to my friends, who were sitting wide-eyed in the audience. My husband was over at the bar, but I knew I couldn’t make it over to him in time to say anything. I knew I couldn’t run either. Cameras are everywhere in China. They’d find me before I could even get home. 

The poster for our event

I laughed and said ‘this isn’t a noise complaint’, when my friends said it was too early for them to already be complaining.  I downed the half pint of cider I had left in my glass, as I see them manhandling my manager and pushing him towards the door. One of the officers spotted me, suddenly remembering that I was there. She looked angry. She shouted at me to get moving with them. I complied, but it didn’t matter.

She grabbed my arm, pushing me along. I said ‘you don’t need to force me. I’m compliant and I’m coming with you’. She pinched the fat under my arm and kept pushing me ahead.

I remembered that my phone was in my hand, and I lifted it to check the time. As soon as the woman noticed, she tried to grab it right out of my hand. Instinctively I held on and pulled away.  What would you do if someone tried to grab your phone? It’s a lifeline.  A man grabbed me from behind and lifted my arm into the air with one of his hands, grabbing the phone out of my hand with the other. 8:08pm.

A screenshot that was accidently taken when the man grabbed my arm and took my phone from me by force.

We got to the police vehicles. There were many. My husband later told me that there were at least 6 or 7. I wasn’t in the mind-frame to count.  I heard our manager asking to be put in the police car with his son, who plays drums in my band. They refused and led him to a separate car. I was escorted into a police truck.

It all seems funny. My farewell party. I was arrested for singing at my farewell party. At 8 o’clock at night, long before noise could be an issue. I wasn’t even paid to be there. It was my farewell party, after all. A wonderful send off and a great way to end 9 years living in a country I have loved for so long. A country I’ve called my home.

Then I think of my husband. He had tried to hand me his phone as I was being escorted into the car. I told him to keep it, and that they already had my own device. He looked worried. This is what makes me break down and start to cry. The idea that Dave is hurting. The idea that I have caused him pain. I am lucky enough to be married to someone who really loves me, and who always has my back. I know that this ordeal…however it turns out…will be as hard on him as it is on me.

I don’t allow myself to break down. Tears stream down my face, but I refuse to sob. Instead, I try to reach out and remind these people that I’m a person. And also to show them that I’m not arguing with them and that I’m not combative. My instincts tell me that I should make connections.

I wait a few moments. I can tell he’s a little uncomfortable, but at least he hasn’t shouted at me, pinched me or grabbed me. I tell him ‘this was my farewell party. I’m leaving China in 6 days. I’ve lived here 9 years’. His response is short, but it says a lot.

“I’m just following orders”.

When we arrive at the police station, I’m told to get out of the car. I look around immediately to see if my bandmates are there as well. They are.  Some relief. They look as grim as I feel, but at least I’m not alone.

The Experiment…on a happier night

Once in the station, I’m told to sit on one end of the room. My guitarist is sitting all the way at the other side of the room. My drummer and the band manager are standing near the police desk at the front of the room. The officers are asking them something. No one pays any attention to me.

Suddenly, I remember a piece of luck. My guitarist recently got his green card. Before I can think it through, I say out loud ‘He has his green card!’. Chaos ensues as we’re shouted at in both Mandarin and English to be quiet.  We aren’t allowed to speak.

They call me over to the desk at the front of the room.  That’s when I see the stack of files on the desk. They rifle through the stack, and I can see so many of my friends in there. Visa photos, addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers…It seems like half of the people I know are in that stack. They find my file and pull it out of the pile. They say they want my passport. I tell them I don’t have it, which annoys them again. Everything I say annoys them. They tell me I’ll need to have someone bring it to them. I remind them that they have my phone, and they say it’s not a problem. No further information.

They put a big black tracking bracelet on me and lock it. It seems like overkill, with the 2 giant metal doors that they closed behind us, but I was also just arrested for singing, so overkill seems to be the theme of the night.

My tracker was just black, but it looked like this. They put it on pretty tightly too so I couldn’t bend my wrist very well. This became a problem later when they were doing my fingerprint scans.

They take me to a room where I remove my shoes and replace them with a pair of prison issue slippers. Things are starting to feel real. And scary.

The woman who kept pinching me comes over my way, once I’m seated again. She has my phone. My lifeline to the world. She holds it in her hand and demands to know my password. I give it to her, and she writes it onto a sticker, which she sticks to the back of the phone.

She then opens up Wechat, and finds my husband in my list of contacts. She tells me to tell him to bring my passport and that she’ll send him the location. She puts the call into speaker phone mode, and holds it in front of my face. Dave picks up. I hear his voice and it sounds worried.

“Are you ok? Are you safe?”

I respond that I am safe and that the officers are being very nice, but that I need him to bring my passport to the location that will be sent to him.

Her finger hovers over the ‘end call’ button throughout our 10 second conversation, and she promptly hangs up on my husband as soon as I’ve finished my sentence.  Then, my phone disappears once again.

Wechat is an invaluable tool if you live in China. It allows you to chat, pay bills, make phone calls, check your account balance, order items and much more. It also records all your transactions and the government can easily block certain sensitive messages from coming through. I know of several instances where people sent a message only for it not to be received on the other account. Certain phrases and words can also trigger your account to be suspended and even lead to you being arrested. It’s a wonderful tool, but it’s also a big problem if you end up in a situation like mine.

A while later, I’m being escorted through a metal detector. I’ve removed all my metal accessories already, but I still beep.  My manager has trouble going through. He’s in a sling, and they make him take it off. He’s obviously sore. He’d only had surgery a week before. His shoulder must be aching from the way they pushed him out of the bar.

I motion to my chest to indicate that it must be the underwire in my bra. I don’t know why I think of that particular excuse…I’m not even wearing a bra with underwire…but I really don’t want to be strip searched, and that’s what pops into my head as an excuse. They accept it. We move on.  

Then I’m brought into my interrogation room. My bandmates are moved further down the hall into rooms of their own. My previous experience in interrogation rooms were dark, quiet and scary. China upgraded since 2006, though. Now, interrogation rooms are bright, florescent, and bare.

They sat me down in a boxy wooden chair. It had to be at least 40 years old. It was uncomfortable, which was the point. It also had a wooden bar across the top, that they folded over my lap when I sat down. It is designed so that the person being interrogated can be locked in, with a simple padlock.  As they lower the wooden bar over my lap, I feel like I am being locked into a roller coaster that I had no desire to be on. 

This is the closest photo I could find to show you the chair. On the right hand side, there was a metal part that they can use to lock people in. The chair I was in was much, much older than this one.

The questions start off simple enough. “Why were you at the bar?” “Do you have an entertainment visa?” “Was the bar owner paying you to be there?”

My mind races. I know there is no point lying. They have my phone and they can see my transactions, ads about our shows, videos of our music. It might seem silly to an outsider that I would have all of this on my phone, but I had been playing in China for 8 years without issue.  In my last 6 months, I probably got a little too cocky.  Surely, I’m not going to get in trouble now.

I try to answer in ways that allow me to be honest, without throwing anyone under the bus. I feel the need to protect the bar owner, and my band manager. They are my friends. The last thing I want to do is rat them out. “I was at the bar because it was my farewell party. I’m moving in Vietnam in 6 days”. “No, I don’t have an entertainment visa. I’m a teacher. I just sing for fun”. “No, Jack has never sent me money to play music at his bar”.

All 3 statements are true, but they don’t make them happy. They open my phone and start scrolling until they find my chat with the bar owner, Jack.  There are no transactions in that conversation, because Jack has truly never paid me. I always received my small performance payment from my band manager. They realize that quickly and find our list of transactions. I can’t protect him now.

There’s even a feature in Wechat that allows you to search for certain keywords or even transactions within a chat. This made it very easy for them. And sadly, even if I had deleted our chat history beforehand, they still could have searched my transactions in other ways. They could have also incarcerated me while they did this, so I’m glad it was so easy. It meant I didn’t need to go to prison.

They ask why he sends me so much money and I laugh and say “Because we’re friends??” in a funny kind of way. They don’t find it funny.

The man in the baseball cap, who keeps calling me Maria, enters the room as I say this.  He comes right up to me and shouts in my face ‘THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!  DON’T LIE TO US!’

I admit that it is payment for some of my performances but that I was not being paid for tonight’s performance.  Looking back, I find it funny that I thought that this would somehow make a difference.

The evening continues this way. They ask me questions. I answer the questions directly and honestly. Any time they think I’m lying, I get screamed at. I think they just like screaming. I also think that they’ve watched to many episodes of Law and Order. This all seems like something from a bad TV show where a rogue cop is trying to get information from a bad guy who is holding back answers.

Then, they come in with the stack of files that I’d seen an hour earlier. They go through each file and ask me which people were musicians.

My husband is in the file. I laugh and say ‘no no, trust me, he is NOT a musician. He tries to play guitar, but he’s horrible”. I immediately feel guilty for saying something that is neither true, nor nice, but I feel a little better knowing that I am protecting him with my bad joke.

I keep making jokes. Looking back, I think it was a coping mechanism, but at the time, I just wanted to keep things as light hearted as possible.  They shout at me more than once, but I can’t seem to stop.

The woman who translates for me appreciates my humour and I can feel her softening towards me. She knows that I’m telling the truth, even though I’m not being as serious as I should be. I think she understands that I’m just scared. She shows me kindness, and I cannot overstate how grateful I am to have her there with me. She’s the closest thing I have to a friend at the moment.

She gives me a smaller stack of files. She asks “Do you know these people and are they in your band?”.  I feel sick to my stomach. I’m being asked to rat on some of my favourite people in Suzhou.  People who have done nothing wrong, other than share my love of music. People who have made my life in Suzhou a richer place.

A flyer from a music festival we all played at the beginning of June.

I go through the files and admit that I know them all, but also state that none of them are in my band. This enrages the person I have now decided is my nemesis. The man in the baseball cap, who keeps calling me Maria.

He comes right up to me once more, screaming in English: “Stop LYING to us! I can legally incarcerate you for 30 days!  I will do it if you keep lying!”

I choke back a sob and say with alarm in my voice ‘I’m not lying! There are only 3 people in my band, and they are all at the police station here with me!’.

My translator realizes her mix up and corrects herself.  “Do you know these people, and do they perform in Suzhou?”

They bring me a red ink pad and make me put a thumb print on each of their files, as a sign that I acknowledge that they too are criminals. I feel sick each time I press my finger down on this stack of papers.

I tell them that I don’t think any of them make money, because they only perform occasionally, but the man in the baseball cap laughs again and says ‘it doesn’t matter’.

The interrogation is over, and all that’s left to do is sign my statements. They translate them into Chinese and print them up. My translator goes through every page with me and tells me not to worry, that they’re going to let me go tonight.

I thank her and ask her when I can get my passport back, because I already know that it won’t be returned to me tonight. She looks uncomfortable.  The man in the baseball cap comes in again and says “we will be keeping your passport and your phone”. I explain that I’m leaving for Vietnam in 6 days, and he laughs at me.

“You’d better cancel your flight!”

That’s when the floodgates open. I begin to cry inconsolably. I sob as I sign my statement. Page after page. Fingerprints on top of every signature.  I can’t stop crying now. My translator hands me a tissue and tells me that it’ll be alright. She says: “You’ve been honest and behaved well, it won’t be too bad”.  It doesn’t make me feel better.

My finger after a different day of signing paperwork. I had to do this a LOT in the 6 weeks I was dealing with immigration.

When I’m finally allowed out of the interrogation chair and lead back into the room with the metal detector, I sob in relief when I see my drummer sitting at a table, looking bored. He’s young. He doesn’t realize how serious this is. He also doesn’t have a flight to Vietnam in 6 days.

I see a small clock and realize that 2 hours have passed since I arrived at the police station. It takes another 3 hours to process the 3 of us. I learn that my guitarist had been saved by his green card and was released.

Fingerprints. Palm prints. Mug shots. Footprints. Retinal scans. DNA swabs.  It takes 3 hours because, in true Chinese fashion, the internet keeps dropping.

We sit in the room together. Now that the interrogation is over and they’ve gotten what they wanted from us, we are allowed to speak. We make bad jokes. My manager assures me that I’ll be on my flight in 6 days. My drummer complains that he’s hungry.

Then, they tell me I can leave. I am startled because my two friends cannot leave yet. They aren’t finished with their processing. I ask if I can use my phone to call a taxi. Nothing is done with cash in China. You call a taxi, and can’t just flag one down. You pay with your Wechat wallet.  I realize that I don’t even have my keys.

I’m told that I cannot use my phone to call a taxi. I explain that I have no way to get home. The officer in charge of processing laughs and says to me in Chinese “That’s not my problem”.

Luckily, I know Dave’s phone number by heart and they have a landline that I am allowed to use.  It turns out that he’s waiting outside the police station for me.

I’m lead out of the processing room, and back into the room where my shoes are waiting. I see an old black chair with restraints built in. My heart stops for a moment, and I’m grateful that this wasn’t used on me. 

The chair looked a little like this. It was just shoved into a closet with a bunch of shoes. They aren’t the most professional or most organized at the police stations in China.

They remove the tracking bracelet from my wrist and give me back my jewelry and belt. Then, they’re opening metal doors and letting me step into the night, where I can see my husband waiting for me, along with a few other friends of the band. He wraps me in his arms and I break down once more.

The aftermath of this night was truly a roller coaster. I was let out of the interrogation chair after just 2 hours, but my mind stayed restrained there for 6 full weeks. There was a total lack of transparency throughout the ordeal, and the immigration officers broke many of their own laws throughout the process.

I wasn’t given any paperwork or even a business card when I left the station that night. They had my phone and my passport, but I was given no information about how I should proceed, or what I could expect. And although we made several trips to the immigration office, trying to get answers, we were told over and over that ‘someone would be in touch within the next 3 months’.

It was an infuriating situation, made worse by how helpless I felt. I tried to write a letter of apology to the immigration office, and even had a friend translate it into Chinese for me, but they refused to take it. I tried talking to several different people, and had many friends call in on my behalf, but no one was told anything. In fact, when we came looking for information, most of the people working in the immigration office seemed to think it was all very funny.

Eventually, we got in touch with the Foreign Affairs Bureau. They were very surprised that several protocols had been breached by these officers and they promised to get in touch and try to get some information for us. Immigration called us and asked me to come in to sign some paperwork within 30 minutes of my departure from the Foreign Affairs office. The next day, I went in and signed post dated paperwork that should have been given to me the night of my arrest.

I got my phone back 10 days after my arrest. They made me sign some post dated paperwork saying that they could keep my phone for a full month, so getting it back after 10 days seemed like a gift.

At this point, you might be wondering why I didn’t go straight to the Canadian Consulate or embassy, but in reality, there is very little the embassy would have been able to do for me. And of course, by getting the consulate involved, we would be escalating things, and possibly embarrassing the officers, which is really something you don’t want to do in a situation like this. For this same reason, I did not get a lawyer directly involved. We did, however, get some very good advice from 2 lawyers, but they never represented us officially. We were told over and over that we just needed to be polite, apologetic and humble, and that this was the best chance we had at a speedy resolution.

I learned a lot about the SIP Immigration people in those 6 weeks. I learned that they actually have a lot less power than they would like. They wanted to deport us and they couldn’t, likely because the offense was too small, and Beijing rejected their request. They wanted to charge me a higher fine, but once my paperwork went up the chain of command, the fine was lowered. Once more, my infraction was so small that they couldn’t justify such a big punishment.

I learned that the people in charge of SIP immigration truly have a mean streak, and that they enjoy their work a little too much. Whenever I had to go in to sign paperwork, the man with the baseball cap (who’s name was James, I learned later) would smile at me smugly as I signed paperwork and heard the charges being laid against me. He continued to use every opportunity he could to shout at me and be rude to me each time I had to go in to sign more paperwork.

The immigration bureau in Suzhou

They also found various ways to make things worse for us. The lack of communication was bad enough, but they also did other little things as well. They refused to call the bar owner themselves, and insisted that we should be the ones to bring him in. They accused us of not being apologetic enough, and used this as a reason for all the delays (keep in mind that I tried to write a letter of apology and it was rejected). They knew I was losing my apartment and would very likely lose my job due to their delays, but their response was always the same: “that’s not our problem”

I spent an unreasonable amount of time at this office.

Eventually, Dave had to leave the country without me, because his visa was up, and getting the cats to Vietnam was becoming complicated. That was a devastating blow to both of us, because it was bad enough dealing with all this together…never mind in different countries. He flew out on July 26th, and landed safely in Hanoi with Hugo and Poe later that night.

My kitties, on their way to their next adventure

I had to move into a hotel on August 7th, because new tenants were moving into my apartment. I didn’t lose my job, in the end, but I did get moved to part time, which affects us financially. I’m enrolled in an online program at the University of Sheffield starting in September, and if I had lost my job completely, I would have also had to leave the program. It was an enormous source of stress for me.

Moving in the hotel was actually a really good step for the sake of my mental health. It felt that I was at least starting to transition into my new life. It also meant that I didn’t have to go home to the big empty apartment that I shared with Dave and the cats.

But, having said all that, I am truly grateful for all the people who helped me out during this horrible time. I had friends emailing me many times every day to check in, during those first 10 days, before they gave me back my phone. So many friends called in on my behalf and told immigration about all the animal rescue work I do in China, pleading that they be lenient with me, because I’m a good person. And of course, so many people got together with Dave and I, to distract us from the situation, and sometimes to just listen while I cried in frustration. We have many beautiful, wonderful and kind people in our lives, and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.

Even people who hardly knew me checked in when they heard about what had happened. I was surprised how many of my acquaintances had their own stories about Suzhou Immigration. Sometimes for simple things, like forgetting to register with the police within 24 hours of returning to Suzhou after travel. Others were fined for working at a different branch of the same school. Some were even locked in that interrogation chair for 4 days, only allowed out when they went for COVID tests, and for 8 hours at night when they were given a blanket and told to sleep on the floor. It seems like everyone I know either has a story about immigration, or knows someone who does.

You might be wondering how I didn’t know this could happen, and the truth is, I did know that singing while on a teaching visa was an infraction. Having said that, I had been singing in Suzhou for 8 years without issue. I had even performed at the request of the government at several events. One of my performances was aired all across Jiangsu province. Many police officers in Suzhou know me by name and have come to my shows as well. One night, a few months ago, we actually drove a police officer back to his station after I performed. He was too drunk and we saw no problem giving him a ride.

My performance for the Suzhou Expat Talent show, back in 2016. It was televised all over Jiangsu province on New Years Eve. I even won prize money.

So why was this a problem now, you might ask? Well, it was all about timing. Dozens of expats were arrested in Suzhou the same weekend I was. As it turned out, Xijiping, the president of China, was visiting Suzhou later that same week. No one knew about it, because his visits are always kept very quiet ahead of time. It’s very likely that the immigration bureau wanted to look productive when he arrive, so it’s plausible that the only reason I was arrested, was to make them look good.

I was finally allowed to leave China on August 16th. I was scared they’d pull me aside at the airport and interrogate me again, or that I could get in trouble for my expired visa, but none of that happened. When I finally made it through immigration at Pudong airport, I had to sit down and cry in a bathroom stall for a while, because I was so relieved to be out.

Needless to say, things are much better now. I’m in Vietnam, back together with Dave, Hugo and Poe. The 3 weeks Dave and I spent apart were full of video calls, and frustration, but we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. I had to pay a 10,000rmb fine (about $2000 Canadian) and sign my name about a hundred times, but that was my only ‘real’ punishment. Really, the time I lost this summer, and the stress of it all was a much bigger punishment. I can always make more money, but I can’t get those 6 weeks back, and I can’t forget everything I went through.

Dave met me at Hanoi airport with Vietnamese coffee in hand. Seeing him there was one of the greatest moments of my life.

So there you have it. That’s the story of my last 6 weeks in China. It was a horrible time, and if you’re reading this because you’re thinking of moving to Suzhou or to China in general, I’d honestly discourage it. I had many amazing times there, and a few years ago, it was a great place to live. But now, foreigners are feeling less and less welcomed by the government. The people are still lovely, and it’s a beautiful country with so much to experience, but it’s impossible to know when they’re going to arbitrarily enforce a rule, and make your life illegal.

I took a walk down to Jinji Lake one last time on my last night in Suzhou. I spent a lot of time that night thinking about all the good times I had in Suzhou, because I didn’t want to forget them, just because it ended badly. I met so many wonderful people there, and was given the opportunity to really become ME. I’ll always be grateful for that.

To all my friends and family who got me through this tough time…thank you.

Saying Goodbye to Suzhou

It’s been a long time since my last post. So much has happened. I’ve been focusing on living life, and haven’t had much time to write about it. You may have also noticed that I’ve moved over to a new platform. Luckily, we were able to move over all my previous posts (by ‘we’, I mean my wonderful tech-savvy husband), and now that I’ve figured out the new system and gotten it looking the way I want it to, I’m back!

The 2022/2023 school year can truly be divided into two parts. In the first half of the year, Suzhou was still in and out of lockdowns due to COVID. They were stricter than ever about entering buildings and it got to the point where we were cooking at home, just to save ourselves the hassle of trying to get into the mall. Volunteer trips to the shelter became nearly impossible because I needed to collect phone numbers, passport numbers, green codes and proof of tests for every single volunteer (usually around 25 people). If I didn’t have these things, we weren’t allowed into the village where the shelter is located.

It was especially frustrating because they wanted me to prove that we all had green codes and had been tested 2 days before the trip….but they also wanted tests done within 24 hours. For those of us who were teaching, this wasn’t too difficult, because we were getting tested anyway…but for people who don’t teach, it was a big hassle. Volunteer numbers were affected.

Chinese citizens had enough, and protests started to erupt all over the country. I haven’t talked much about the worst parts of the COVID measures in China, but many people did die due to those measures. 10 people died in the western province of Xinjiang, when their building managers locked them in with chains during lock downs. A fire broke started, and people couldn’t get out. 27 people died in Guizhou province while on their way to a quarantine hotel. The bus lost control and went off the side of a cliff. At that point, only 2 people had died of COVID in all of Guizhou province, but it didn’t change the crazy measures they were taking to keep people ‘safe’.

These ‘Da Bai’ became a symbol of fear in China. Someone dressed up as one for Halloween and my heart stopped when they walked into the bar. I thought we were all going to be shipped off to quarantine centers. Not only did they start getting a lot more aggressive in 2022, but they also started throwing people into jail if they refused to show their codes. Many of them loved having so much power over others.

In addition to all the deaths caused by COVID measures, lockdowns were getting worse all over China. Dave and I were watching the news in horror as violence was breaking out in factories all over the country, where hundreds of thousands of people were being locked into their places of employment. There were food shortages, and anyone testing positive was taken into horrible quarantine camps. People had had enough, and they started to fight back. Things became very physical, and we were seeing videos popping up all over Chinese media. Of course, they were taken down within hours (sometimes minutes!) of being posted, but everyone saw them anyway.

Even at my own school, there were times where we were told we could not leave campus until all the tests were checked and negative. Luckily, I didn’t have to stay late very often, but it was unsettling knowing that I was being forced to stay at the school, especially while knowing what was happening all around the country.

It was a very scary time to be living here, and it took a toll on our mental health. My classes were interrupted daily for testing. We were being tested nearly every day in autumn, and as winter approached, things were looking grim. I didn’t want to spend my last year here in and out of lock downs. I didn’t want my memories of this beautiful country to be tarnished by a virus that was going to spread regardless of government actions. I just wanted things to go back to normal.

This message popped up every other morning for months. It interrupted my classes constantly, and I quite often taught 2 consecutive classes in the mornings, so I often had to run downstairs to get tested during the 5 minute break I had between my classes.

Then, on December 7th, it all changed. Codes were no longer needed and testing was halted. The city was no longer full of ‘Da Bai’ (the term for people dressed in the white safety suits that China used). The country stopped posting daily number for infected individuals. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced. A switch was flipped and suddenly, we could breath again.

I was getting tested every day at the beginning of November. Without that green stamp showing 24 or 48 hours, I couldn’t enter school grounds I added 5 minutes to my commute every morning, just for showing codes to get into the gate. I needed this one, a green travel code, and often also the Alipay health code, if security was being particularly picky.

It was impossible for them to track how many people got sick in those first weeks, but the numbers were certainly in the hundreds of millions. Hospitals were overrun, mostly because people in China go to the hospital for even the smallest thing. Fever clinics were opened up all over Suzhou to help with all the people coming in, demanding IV drips. There were certainly deaths, but they weren’t announced. I caught COVID on December 18th, and Dave started showing symptoms on the 19th. By Christmas, we were right as rain and able to go enjoy a dinner in nearby Kunshan. Most holiday celebrations were cancelled though, because so many service workers were catching the virus and recovering at home or in fever clinics.

This is a photo of a hospital waiting room in Beijing. You read more about it here

By mid January, it was estimated that 80% of China’s massive 1.4 billion citizens had had caught COVID. Eventually, quarantine measures for flights were reduced and then disappeared, and life got back to almost normal. Masks became optional. People started to live again. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was living in fear. I was scared it could all start up again at any point. When Monkey Pox started hitting the news, we were worried they were renew virus management measures.

Suddenly, all the COVID Christmas specialty items we bought were no longer relevant…there was a LOT to choose from. I got the cutest Christmas cards with Santa being swabbed with a PCR test before can enter a house, and him dressed up as a Da Bai…. here’s another example of a COVID themed Christmas sweater. This stuff was everywhere.

A lot of ridiculous things were posted online during that time. Superstitions were rampant. People in China were terrified of doing any physical activity for months after they caught COVID, because they were sure it would cause them to have heart attacks and die. I was told by all my coworkers that I shouldn’t be taking walks, because physical activity could be deadly. Long showers were also risky, I was told. When Monkey Pox started hitting the news here, news articles were being published telling locals not to shake hands or come into contact with any foreign people because we might infect them.

An actual headline from a Chinese news site. The person who said it was quickly reprimanded, but word was already out there. Foreigners were being targeted (again).

But, eventually, things sort of just went back to normal. People started going out again. We weren’t all living in fear that we might be put back into a lock down. Events started happening again. We could go places freely. We didn’t have to worry about getting COVID tests daily, and I didn’t need to show any codes when I came into the school or went to the store. I went from having my temperature checked 5 times a day, to never having it checked at all. We all started LIVING again. It was wonderful.

Our last few months in China were incredible. It made me very sad to leave this place that I’ve called home for the past 8 years. I accepted a job in Hanoi, Vietnam, in spring, and as the date came closer, I felt sadder about leaving. I knew it would be hard to say goodbye to all my friends here. I know it would be especially hard to say goodbye to the music scene. In my last 6 months in China, I performed nearly every weekend, sometimes by myself, but often with various bands.

One of my favourite songs to play with these guys: What’s Up by Four Non-Blondes. I loved playing it electric because I could belt out the notes in a way that I couldn’t when I played it solo or acoustically. I love how much fun Sheldyn was having on drums.
I’ve been playing this song with Kit for 8 years here in Suzhou. Harmonizing and doing duets with him is something I’ll always miss about my time in Suzhou.
It took us some time to get Jolene ‘just right’ but by the time June rolled around, it sounded awesome at every show!

Sadly, the thing that made me happiest in my last 6 months in China, also cost me a lot. Although Dave and I were supposed to arrive in Vietnam on July 7th, everything changed at my farewell party on July 1st. But I’ll be telling that story in my next blog post. It’s a doozy. Be sure to check back to hear all about how I was arrested in front of all my friends, and spent 6 weeks trapped in the country I once loved so much.


After a wonderful trip to Canada, where we got to see friends, family and so much of what we missed, we headed back to China, where COVID is treated like ebola, and where measures often don’t make sense and seem in excess.  The trip back was a nightmare, especially at Pudong airport, where we queued and walked kilometers across the airport, going from one check point to the next.  By comparison, quarantine wasn’t actually as bad. 

After 6 hours of walking through a hot and frustrating airport, relaxing in my quarantine room was a relief!

When we booked our trip, back in March, we knew it meant 2 weeks of hotel quarantine, followed by 2 weeks of home quarantine.  We booked our tickets knowing this, but were very relieved in June, when we learned that the government was reducing this time to 7 days in a hotel + 3 at home.  With Omicron having a shorter incubation period than previous strains of COVID 19, the government finally loosened up a bit. 

Most people experience symptoms within 2-3 days of exposure for Omicron, as opposed to 4-5 days for Delta.  There were some freak cases last year that had people testing positive weeks or even a month after coming into contact with a positive case, and a lot of the government measures were based on that.

Now, I should start by saying that I’m not actually opposed to the mandatory quarantine imposed on people coming into China.  With such a dense population, it is very easy for case numbers to grow very quickly, overwhelming hospitals, and leading to a lot of deaths.  I believe in protecting the vulnerable, and I know I would feel AWFUL if I caused an outbreak by unknowingly spreading COVID. 

It can spread so quickly if left unchecked, so I do understand why China can’t just drop all the regulations.

Still…I can say, some of it was pretty ridiculous, but hey, it makes for good reading, so at least I can blog about the experience!

Quarantine Breakdown

The current quarantine regulations for people entering China involve 7 days in a hotel + 3 at home.  It can vary a little for residents of cities close to Shanghai (like Suzhou), because Shanghai simply can’t handle that many people quarantining all at once, for 7 days.  So, our Quarantine was actually broken down into 3 parts instead of 2. 

  • Part 1: A hotel in Shanghai
  • Part 2: A hotel in Suzhou
  • Part 3: Home quarantine in Suzhou
Suzhou doesn’t have its own airport, and most of the flights coming into China nowadays are going to Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen or Shenzhen. That means a LOT of people are quarantining in those cities.

Now, I should begin by explaining that you get 0 say in which hotel you’ll be sent to, and wherever you end up, you have to pay for your room, regardless of the price.  Couples are not allowed to quarantine together either, doubling the already inflated costs of these rooms.  This was a pretty scary reality for us, but we hadn’t been home in 3 years, so we decided to just hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

We had heard of some people in Xiamen having to spend $300 Canadian per night, per person.  There are currently 7 days of mandatory hotel quarantine (+3 at home), which could have ended up costing us $4200 CAD if we’d landed ourselves in one of the expensive boarding facilities. This was on top of inflated flight prices and the $700 we spent on tests before we could even board the plane.  Again… we would have had virtually no say in it if we ended up somewhere that was charging $300 per night.

Our faces pretty much the entire morning we arrived in Shanghai

Fortunately, the bus that transported us from Pudong Airport brought us to the Mercure Hotel, which was far more reasonable than the ones we had heard of in Xiamen.  Still, we had no idea what we’d be paying until we reached that check in room, and they charged our debit accounts.

The “check in desk”

Part 1 of our quarantine cost us a total of $720 Canadian.  The fees included our daily testing and meals, but was still quite a bit more than we would usually spend on a hotel in Shanghai.  In a typical situation, we would spend about $250 to stay there for 3 nights.  Still, the hotel was nice, and we had desks to work at, so we were relieved with the situation.

Part 2 of our quarantine was in Suzhou.  We stayed at an older hotel there, located on Yangcheng lake, where Suzhou’s famous hairy crabs live.  This hotel wasn’t quite as nice as the one in Shanghai, but the rooms were much bigger.  Plus, the situation was much better for us in Suzhou because I  managed to get a note from my doctor that enabled Dave and I to stay together in the same room.  You can get doctor’s notes for a few things; in my case, it was for anxiety (turns out being cooped up alone for days is bad for the mental health.. who knew!?)

Our hotel in Suzhou even had a balcony.  We couldn’t go out onto it though…

This meant that we still had to pay double for food, but we were only charged the cost of 1 room, instead of 2.  Our Quarantine hotel in Suzhou came to $464 Canadian, which was a big relief.  Our total cost of hotel quarantine came to just under $1200 CAD, which is a LOT better than we had actually expected to pay when we booked our trip to Canada.

The poor testing staff are forced to change their PPE after every test.  They were so sweaty that they could hardly see.  One of the reasons hotel quarantine prices are higher is because of all the hazard pay and extra services the hotels need to provide guests

Part 3 of quarantine is done at home.  Of course, home quarantine is still supposed to be done solo, and without my doctor’s note, 1 of us would have had to stay in the hotel for those last 3 nights.  Many people in Shanghai actually can’t do home quarantine at all, because it’s up to the compounds on whether or not they’ll allow it.  Lucky for us, our compound was fine with it (thanks to my doctor’s note), and even let us order in groceries.  We couldn’t go outside and we were only allowed to open our door for deliveries, but at least we were home!!

Poe was very pleased to have us back

Keeping Busy

Once you are brought to your room, you close the door, and are only allowed to open it again for testing (once per day) & to get your food (3 times per day). If extra necessities need to be delivered (my first thermometer didn’t work, for example), they are left on the table outside of your room, and you can pick it up when you get your next meal. 

I snapped a picture of the empty hallway when I grabbed my food one day

There are monitors on every door, so if you decide to open it when you shouldn’t, hotel staff know.  There are also cameras in all the halls.  It’s all very strict and I’m sure it wouldn’t be pleasant if someone were to break the rules.  We all had to sign contracts on arrival, stating that we would abide by all government laws and COVID protection measures.

Day 1 wasn’t actually too bad.  I was so relieved to be done with the airport fiasco, and sitting in an air conditioned room, with access to plenty of water… it was honestly a relief!  Of course, I kept busy by reading, getting a bit of work done, and by messaging my friends to let them know we landed safely. 

Our passports WERE returned to us, by the way

Day 2 was more of the same. I journaled, blogged, read…. anything to stay busy. By day 3 though, I was like a tiger in a cage… Pacing my room, stretching, exercising and basically just doing anything that requires movement. There was just enough room for me to walk around my bed, so I spent a lot of my day doing exactly that.

Started a new book. Loved it!

When you’re alone that much, you have a lot of time to think. Our dear cat, Ollie, died while we were in Canada. Of course, I thought about this a lot. Also, many of our friends moved away in June, having put up with enough of the restrictions…I thought about that a lot too. It’s difficult to be positive when you’re alone, anxious, and worrying about all the lock downs that will likely be happening during our last year in China.

Losing my best friend on the planet (aside from Dave) was devastating, and the full impact hit me on day 3. He wouldn’t be there when I finally got home.

I called my doctor on day 3, and got the note that allowed me to be with Dave for the rest of our quarantine. 3 days alone was bad enough…10 would have been unbearable for me.

I was stuck to him like glue our first couple of hours back together

The Food

When you’re trapped in your room, unable to go out or even open the door outside of meal time, food become a really important part of your day.  Even though I wasn’t really looking forward to EATING the food, it was something to break up the monotony, so I looked forward to each meal regardless of what they served.

Added Measures

Just as our 2nd hotel stay was coming to an end, we got a message from a government official in Suzhou, informing us that Dave had been flagged as a close contact to someone who tested positive on our flight. We were given an extra day of mandatory quarantine, and were required to do blood tests “just to be safe”. The woman who had been sitting next to Dave was also flagged as a close contact, but as a resident of Shanghai, she wasn’t given extra time in quarantine and didn’t need to do blood work. As is often the case, Suzhou was just slapping on extra measures.


Of course, there’s nothing we could do about it, so we did our extra day in quarantine, did the blood tests, and looked forward to being able to go home.

The (Extra) Strange Stuff


On our last morning at the hotel in Suzhou, they came to do throat swabs, as usual, and then handed us half a dozen wet swabs, with a sign explaining that we were supposed to test various areas of the room, and then give them back the swabs for analysis. Keep in mind that this was after we had already had 12 COVID negative tests and had no symptoms.

Dave, expertly swabbing the light fixtures


For some reason, when we left our hotel in Shanghai, we were made to put on latex gloves for the bus ride and trip to the hotel. This is still a mystery to me. We already had 7 negative tests at this point, and it definitely felt like more theatrics.


Ok, this one sort of made sense to me. Bleach kills viruses, so of course you should find it in a quarantine hotel. The abundance of bleach was extreme though. All our luggage was sprayed down with it upon our arrival to the Suzhou hotel. At other hotels, they were DRENCHING people’s luggage with the stuff.

This photo was taken from a different hotel. The floors of all the buses and hotels were like this.

The bleach is also never actually wiped off, just sprayed on, layer after layer. The buses, hallways and hotels were covered in residue. The halls in our Suzhou hotel had carpet, and therefore covered with tarps and plastic… Which were also coated in bleach. It made everything look kind of gross.

The hallway going to our room


At the Shanghai hotel, we were allowed to order things online, even coffee from Starbucks. We could order food and really whatever we wanted, as long as we only opened our door to receive them at meal time. In Suzhou, however, we could only receive things if family members or friends dropped them off. No food was allowed, and anything that came in had to be left overnight in a special room, and…. You guessed it…sprayed with bleach. Furthermore, our hotel would only deliver these things on Wednesdays and Sundays. We arrived on a Wednesday and left on a Sunday, so even if we wanted to, we couldn’t have had anything dropped off.

At least they provided us with the basics… Masks, bleach tablets (for the toilet?) And rubbing alcohol. And of course, lots and lots of hand sanitizer

Every hotel has its own rules. Last year, when a friend of mine was quarantined after being in a high risk area, I was able to bring her cake from Starbucks, yogurt, fruit and bread. As long as it wasn’t home made, it was fine. Every hotel makes up their own rules, and once more, we were left feeling like it was far more about theatrics than safety.

So… That was our quarantine experience. Overall it wasn’t too bad. I do have to mention that the staff at both our hotels were VERY kind and helpful. The rooms were also very clean and comfortable, and all our food was edible. It could have been SO much worse. Especially if we’d tested positive while in quarantine. We know a few people who did, and they were shipped to special COVID hospitals, where they were given a wide range of drugs to ‘combat’ COVID. If you end up in one of those hospitals, you have to stay there until you test negative multiple times. It’s a nightmare, and I’m so glad it isn’t one that we had to experience.

No matter how welcoming they try to make it look, it just doesn’t look like a good time…

I’m planning on doing quite a bit of blogging about Suzhou over the next year. One thing that the quarantine experience taught us, is that we definitely don’t want to be doing it again. So, at the end of this school year, we’ll be moving onto our next adventure. Until then, we’ll keep living it up (and they’ll keep locking us down… I’m sure).

From China & Back Again

I’ve taken quite the absence from my blogging this year, mostly because there hasn’t been much to blog about. We were in and out of the various stages of lock down for 3+ months, which led to our finalized decision to leave China in June of 2023. The good news is that there was a silver lining at the end of lock downs… we got to go home!!!

The last time I’d seen my family was August 2019.
I had new nieces and nephews to meet this year! And new fur-family to meet too!!!

The months leading up to our trip home was filled with uncertainty. When we booked our flights, we were expecting to do 2 weeks of hotel quarantine and 2 weeks of at home quarantine where we would not be allowed to leave the apartment. About a month before we left however, this was changed to 7 days in hotel quarantine with only 3 days at home. Several other changes lead to us having an extra week in Manitoba as well, so it seemed like things were looking up! Still, I didn’t fully relax until we were seated on our flight back to Vancouver. Things change quickly, and right up until that point, we were prepared for things to go wrong.

The moment we could finally relax

The whole process of getting out of China and then getting back in was quite an ordeal. I thought you might all be interested in hearing about all the steps we had to take, so here it is: our summer adventure!

Getting out of Suzhou

Getting out of Suzhou was a bit of an ordeal up until the week we left. If we had gone 1 week earlier, we would have had to take a car to the permiter between Suzhou and Shanghai and then transfered to another car because it was impossible for drivers to get into Shanghai and then out again. This rule was lifted just in time and we were able to take 1 car the whole 3 hour drive. It was still pricey (3x the normal fee) but doable.

For a long time, no one could even drive in Shanghai without a special (and very expensive) license. If we had tried to travel at that point, it would have cost us almost $1000 Canadian to drive 100km

We arrived at the airport 5 hours before our flight and we were very glad had the extra time. Although Pudong airport was a ghost town (which was very strange because it’s usually an incredibly busy place), it took us 2.5 hours just to check in our luggage. It seemed like everyone packed more luggage than usual (many seemed to be paying to take extra suitcases), and many pets were flying too. Worst of all, due to COVID concerns, the AC was basically non existent so we had to stand there in the heat, wearing N95 masks. Shanghai is a hot city and even in the morning it was between 25 and 30 degrees celsius, with plenty of humidity.

Empty airport

Once we got through check-in, we had to get through immigration and security. They were extra fussy with security this year, and we had to leave behind all our hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Our luggage was thoroughly checked. Customs was easy for us, but the line was slow because any Chinese people leaving had to explain why they were leaving in detail. I overheard one woman explaining that she needed to go to America because she hadn’t seen her son and grandchildren in three years. China is still trying to prevent any unnecessary travel in and out of the country, so people actually had to have a valid reason to leave.

Their stash of confiscated COVID prevention tools….

Once we were boarded, things went smoothly, but the flight itself was 2 hours longer than normal because there was a crew switch in Seoul. With the added COVID rules, the crews couldn’t legally do the entire trip. They have hours of safety measures to do once the plane lands, so all flights to and from Canada now have a stop in Korea, to allow a new crew to take over We weren’t allowed off the plane, of course, and it added an additional 2 hours to our already long trip home.

When your trip home is already 36 hours to begin with, it’s kind of rough having another 2 hours added on…

Arriving in Canada

Arriving in Canada was easy peasy. Although there were massive delays in Toronto, Vancouver was not very affected, so aside from a slightly longer wait to check in, arriving in Canada was a piece of cake. It was so good to be home, hearing French on the intercoms, and seeing familiar shops and restaurants. Our first meal back was at A&W, where we overloaded on sodium and sugar and immediately regretted our decision.

Getting Ready to Head Back

Our trip home was fantastic and I’ll write more about that in my next couple of posts. The last week, though, was a bit stressful. In addition to worrying about our flights being cancelled, we had to be tested and apply for a codes that would allow us to get back into the country. We heard horror stories of people who had tested positive and the difficulty they were having with getting negative tests, even weeks later. Many flights were being cancelled on the Canadian side (because of staff shortages) and also on the China side (due to circuit breaker measures that China has in place if too many people on a particular fight test positive on arrival).

We were checking groups and websites every day to make sure our flight wasn’t cancelled

Our biggest challenge was finding the right information about the testing requirements to get our green codes for re-entry. Info on the consulate websites were out of date and we had a lot of difficulty getting in touch with anyone at the consulates as well. It turned out that we had to get 2 tests done from DIFFERENT labs. The first had to be done 2 days before departure, the second 1 day before departure. The problem was that there was only 1 lab in Winnipeg that was in China’s approval list. After some digging, we found out that they were ok with us using labs that weren’t on the list, as long as they were legit and the tests were done in the nose. We found this to be particularly interesting because all the testing we do weekly in China is done in the throat, but rules were rules and we followed them.

Accurate portrail of us trying to figure out exactly what we needed to do to be allowed back into Canada. We researched all this before we left but things change so frequently, we couldn’t keep up.

In total, the testing cost us over $700 Canadian, which was a little crazy given that we get tested multiple times per week in China for free. And if we happen to miss the free testing, it costs less than a dollar to pay to have one done. Of course, China has the infrastructure in place to mass test, whereas Canada relies mostly on at-home antigen tests. Those aren’t accepted in China, so it’s PCR or nothing here.

$700 to have our eyeballs poked through our noses…

I think the biggest stress in that last week, aside from conflicting and missing information, was our fear of catching COVID. If we had, it could have taken months for us to get back to China, and it also would have cost us thousands of dollars. We hand sanitized, masked up and acted like paranoid nuts that last week, but luckily, our families were very understanding and accommodating and we had most of our get togethers and goodbyes outside, where risks were much lower. We never caught COVID, which was a stroke of good luck, supported by careful measures. Our time in China had already normalized a lot of these behaviors, so it was just a matter of switching back into those habits after a very stress-free summer.

We avoided all cash as well, using only cards.

We managed to get through it all and got our green codes to China, and before we knew it, we were off!

One last breath of fresh Canadian Air before we put our masks back on for the next 40 hours or so

Arriving in China

This is where the real “fun” began. I’ll try not to bore you with too much detail, but the moment we arrived back in China, things got a lot more serious. The difference in the way we were treated was obvious. In Canada, COVID is basically treated as ‘no big deal’. In China, we were treated like we had bubonic plague and had the intention of spreading it to the masses.

We were already exhausted after 27 hours of travel at this point, and there was so much yet to come…

The airport was all extremely sterile, with every worker in a full PPE suit, despite the heat. There was a lot of shouting as we were hearded from one line up to the next, walking several kms around the airport for the different parts of re-entry. This is a rough breakdown of the steps.

  1. Recheck the codes that we had needed to board the airplane & sign consent forms for testing to be done (these tests were not optional, so I’m not sure why we needed to sign consent)
  2. COVID testing- the most painful and uncomfortable test of my life. It took the guy 3 tries before he was happy with the results, and the swabs went so deep into my throat that I gagged and heaved the entire time. My throat was sore for hours.
  3. Temperature checks and facial recognition.
  4. Immigration
  5. Baggage claim
  6. Sorting into provinces for the quarantine hotels
  7. Preparation for the hotel quarantine location we’d be staying in and the surrender of our passports
  8. Getting onto the bus that would take us into quarantine
  9. Check in and payment at the quarantine hotel
  10. Preliminary testing at the COVID hotel, including temperature checks (with thermometers that didn’t work), another PCR (nose AND throat… different swabs, don’t worry) and logging in info so that we could be sorted into our next quarantine hotel.

We landed at 6am and it was probably about 1pm by the time we could finally sit back and relax in our quarantine room. None of it was particularly difficult, but the amount of walking we had to do, carrying all our luggage, was exhausting… especially in the heat & N95 masks. I was very glad to have a bottle of water for Dave and I to share, because there was no where to get water on the way. This was probably a good thing because I don’t think we were allowed to use the washrooms either.

Luckily the hotel had 25 liters of water waiting for us in the room. I swear I finished half the first one when we finally arrived

By the end of it, I was jetlagged, sore and emotionally drained. I got yelled at so many times, and there wasn’t a smile to be seen anywhere… Just PPE suits, masks, visors and exhausted and overheating staff at the airport. It wasn’t exactly the nicest welcome back.

Ehhh…not so much…

I have 1 week left of quarantine and plenty that I’m still planning to write about, including an entire post describing our life behind monitored doors, and several posts about Canada…

Stay tuned and feel free to leave your comments below!!

COVID in Suzhou

Well, it’s been an interesting start to the year of the Tiger! Dave and I decided to stay in Suzhou over Chinese New Year, once more. Traveling in China at the moment is a headache, as Omicron spreads across the country. We didn’t want to deal with potential quarantines or all the testing required to travel, so we stayed in the city of gardens and canals and enjoyed good times with good friends.

The last night of the holiday, things got interesting. Suzhou announced that 4 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Suzhou. It was announced that schools were going to be closed while the city figured out if the virus had spread. 4 cases may not seem like much, but Suzhou hasn’t had any local transmission since May 2020, so this was a pretty big deal.

For those unfamiliar, Suzhou is a city about 100km from Shanghai

Monday morning, things got even more interesting! I woke up at 7am to find out that the city was ordering mass testing, and that we wouldn’t be allowed to leave our apartment compound until we had COVID tests done. So, we lined up outside, along with 1000 of our neighbors, and waited for the swab.

In line. I’m glad it isn’t -40° like it is in Canada!!

It took about 2 hours to get through the line, and then I was able to get to the school for an emergency meeting on how online classes would be handled. I was a little annoyed that my boss decided that an in-person meeting was required (we’ve been through all this before, after all…), but we were called in, so we went.

By the end of the day, there were 8 confirmed cases in Suzhou.

My compound was all clear, but some of my coworkers ended up with yellow codes, indicating that they had been in the same vicinity as someone who was confirmed as being a positive case. One of my coworkers had a confirmed case in her apartment complex, which was a little alarming. She had to go home and basically stay there until further notice.

We’re up to 24 positive cases in Suzhou now. No one is really panicking. We all know that omicron isn’t super deadly and that we’ll mostly be fine if we catch it, but with China’s MASSIVE population, and close living conditions, an out-of-control breakout could lead to a LOT of hospitalizations, so it’s still taken very seriously.

Dave and I lined up again this morning for test #2. We’ll likely need to be tested every second day for the next couple of weeks. I’m teaching from home and we stocked up on groceries (and toilet paper!), So we aren’t leaving the apartment all that much. We are free to move around if we want to, and as long as we comply with testing and masks, we can go out, but we’d rather not risk ending up with yellow codes if we come into contact with someone who later tests positive. It’s too much of a headache, so we’re playing it safe.

I find it interesting how different countries are reacting to things now (and through these past two years too). In Canada, there are massive protests going, and with vaccination rates being so high, and population density so low, I understand why people are tired of the restrictions. I am too. In China though, the risks are different, and as frustrated as I can get about things here, on some levels I get it.

I think I can speak for everyone on the planet when I say that I just really want this all to end.

Stay safe everyone! Looking forward to the day that all this is a distant memory!!

The Self Isolated Canuck

We’re in beautiful Hainan, and although still on holiday, I haven’t written for a while.  There’s actually a pretty good reason for that: China is experiencing an outbreak.  To make matters worse, there was a single sick person in Zhangjiajie while we were there, and the whole country has been put on alert. I figured that might be something worth writing about for my friends back home. 

On our balcony

COVID in China

Of course, COVID is something that the world has been dealing with for nearly two years now.  It began in a Chinese city called Wuhan, and quickly spread across the world.  China failed to contain the virus in early days but became a lot more smart about it very quickly.  Mass lock downs took place in every city across China, and international travel was halted for months.  We were lucky enough to get back into the country before the major lock downs happened, but many people weren’t.  I know so many people who were separated from their spouses for over a year.  Some are still separated. 

I can’t imagine how much harder this time would have been without Dave.  We’re so lucky that we’ve been able to stay together through all this!!

Eventually things got better.  Mass testing and strict regulations brought down the country’s COVID numbers to nearly none.  In the past year, there have been little breakouts here and there, but they’ve been stopped very quickly but locking down affected districts and through mass testing.  Spring Festival saw several small breakouts and the whole country was asked not to travel.  Companies offered incentives for their workers to forgo their trips home, and once more, the virus was put back under control and life continued pretty normally. 

There has been a massive effort to get everyone vaccinated in China.  Dave and I both got our shots and felt confident about traveling within China for the summer. There is still a 4 week quarantine period for anyone coming back into China though, so international travel was off the table yet again.  With only 6 weeks off for summer holiday, I couldn’t face 4 weeks of quarantine here and 2 weeks in Canada.  Still, I was grateful to at least move around China as we have.

The Delta Variant

Months back, a new version of the virus emerged during a massive breakout in India.  That variant has China on high alert because although their vaccine is ok to deal with the original strain, and several others, it isn’t as helpful against this new, more contagious strain.  When several airport workers tested positive in Nanjing in June, once more, the country was on high alert.  Citizens of Nanjing had to go for daily COVID tests and the whole city was put on lockdown.  Unfortunately, cases can go undetected and several sick people left Nanjing, unaware that they were sick. 

They’ve tracked things very closely

The patient who tested positive in Zhangjiajie was in the city at the same time that we visited the park. We were lucky enough to never cross paths with him.  We were never in the city of ZJJ itself, and he was at the park the day that we left the area.  Still, it caused a bit of problems because our 2 week travel history shows Zhangjiajie. 

The text at the bottom of the white part shows all the places I’ve been in the last 2 weeks.  The ones with stars are medium or high risk zones.  Luckily, my code has stayed green, but those stars mean that I need to show negative nucleic acid tests before any city will let me in.

Shortly after we were in Haikou, someone tested positive there too.  Once more, we were never in any of the same places as this patient, but our codes were flagged.  We decided to hunker down a little longer at our hotel on the outskirts of Lingshui.  I’m very happy we had booked here and not in Sanya or Haikou, which are much more popular tourist destinations.  We booked this way specifically to keep away from crowds.  Even though China has remained relatively safe for the past 18 months, we like to be careful. 

This is about as busy as the beach near our hotel gets. 

Being Responsible

We have done our best to be as responsible as possible with all this information.  We got tested right away, and have been avoiding crowds.  We’ve spent most of the last 2 weeks either in our room, or walking in areas that aren’t too populated by people.  We did make a trip into Wanning and Wencheng when our tests came back negative, but the following day we got a call from the district Health Authority asking where we had been in Wanning, because there was a suspected case there.  Once more, we were lucky enough to not have crossed paths with the person (he had been at the testing center, and we had been at the outlet mall) but it was enough of a scare to get us not to travel anywhere else on the island ever since.

Even though this outlet mall is pretty dead, and we wore masks the whole time, I wish we hadn’t risked it. 

The last couple of weeks have been kinda scary.  We got SO many messages from friends back in Suzhou, scared for us because we’d been in Zhangjiajie.  Suzhou itself has gone a little overboard and is forcing anyone who was in ZJJ to do a hotel quarantine, regardless of multiple negative tests. Even though we were never in any of the same places as the ZJJ patient, if we went back to Suzhou now, we would be put in 2 separate hotel rooms and stuck there until we’d been away from Zhangjiajie for 2 full weeks. Even if we had multiple negative tests. 

Articles like this pop up in my feed every single day, and they often have information about all the places that a COVID positive person may have been.  They list any trains (and the seat numbers) that these people took, and any areas where the person went
  This is why I can say, with confidence, that we never crossed paths with these people. 

This is part of why I find it so strange that people think that wearing a mask in public is such an infringement of rights.  China has taken much further measures tracking and posting positive patients’ whereabouts and enforcing mass quarantines and testing. We honestly don’t even mind going along with most of it, because we’ve seen first hand the effect these measures have had on reducing the number of cases here in China.

By comparison, America has had over 36 million cases, and Canada has had about 1.5 million.  Given that China has a HUGE population, I’d say 93,000 cases is pretty good!!!

Suzhou itself is a bit of an extreme case.  Events are forbidden there right now, and bars have been closed.  Many buisnesses are only allowed 1/2 capacity.  Schools are even shut down for all of August, which will affect me at the end of the month.  There’s mass testing happening right now in Suzhou, and I have several friends in quarantine hotels at the moment.  Suzhou hasn’t had a single case of community transmission, so it feels like an over reaction, but at the same time, these measures might be why there hasn’t been a single community spread there since May 2020.

Community transmission is much better controlled if mass testing takes place.

By contrast, we didn’t have to quarantine in Lingshui.  We chose to, until our tests came back negative, but it wasn’t forced.  When someone tested positive in Haikou, Hainan’s capital, things did tighten up.  Masks were enforced and temperature checks came up again, but other than that, it’s been business as usual.  So far, everyone who was near the Haikou patient has tested negative, and Hainan province is still only showing up with 1 case in all the news reports.  This is a relief and probably due to all the calls made by the Health Authority to anyone who came into contact with the positive patient.  It was nipped in the bud, and stopped before it could spread. 

This looks scary at a glance, but you can see that most of these places only have a few cases.  It’s so closely monitored and updates like this come out every single day. 

So that’s been our last couple of weeks in Lingshui. We’ve mostly be working and catching up on some reading.  Of course, we’ve made full use of our balcony tub as well.  When we have gone out, it’s been to places with few people, and always outdoors.  Our trip to the outlet mall in Wanning was a lesson and we didn’t need to learn it twice. 

I’ll be back soon with some backlogged posts about our time in Hainan last Christmas.  I never got around to finishing those posts thanks to some nasty food poisoning, followed by a very busy January full of exams. 

An edited photo of a water lily on one of our Christmas hikes. More on that soon!!

Are you living in China right now?  What have your experiences been this summer?  If you’re not in China, what is your perspective on the way the virus has been handled here?  I’d love to hear your comments! 

Zhangjiajie: The Avatar Mountains

China has such a variety of geological landscapes.  From the deserts of Gansu, to the karst mountains of Guangxi, there is an abundance of beauty here.  Mount Everest, Yellow Mountain, and Mount Emei are some of China’s most famous peaks, and the Yangtze and Yellow rivers are equally famous vast bodies of water.  China has a lot to offer tourists, although many skip these natural beauties, visit the Wall, The Warriors and The Bund, then peace out.  They don’t know what they’re missing. 

Admittedly, when I first moved to Xiamen in 2005, I didn’t realize how much China had to offer either, but through the years, I’ve come to appreciate the variety of landscapes the Middle Kingdom offers.  These past 2 years have been especially eye opening to me, because I haven’t been able to go home.  My summers are usually spent with family and friends in Canada, but with that being impossible for 2 summers in a row, Dave and I have opted to travel China, rather than to sit and sulk in Suzhou. 

There is one place though, that Dave and I have always wanted to visit, but always put off, mostly because of the crowds.  Zhangjiajie is located in Hunan Province, and although many foreigners haven’t heard of it, local Chinese tourists have.  It’s the busiest place we’ve been all summer, and it’s very easy to see why. 

Now, I had never heard of these mountains until a coworker of mine visited in 2015 (when we were living in Guiyang).  But although I had never heard of them, I HAD seen them, and just not realized it.  They’re featured in the movie Avatar. 

Spoiler: they don’t actually float in real life, but it can look like they do when fog sets in. 

There are a few things you should know, if you’re thinking of traveling to Zhangjiajie.  First of all, flights can be a bit tricky.  Unless you’re flying from a major city, you’ll have to have a layover in Changsha or Xian.  You can take the train as well, but once more, it’s a bit of a long trek unless you’re already living in Changsha.  That being said, it IS worth the trip.

Our train back to Changsha was mostly standing room only.  It’s a 3 hour ride so you’ll want to make sure to book early and get a seat. 

Another thing to consider is that it’s almost always crowded, especially during holidays (most people in China all get their holidays at the same time).  We went during summer, which was probably the least crowded of all the regular holiday seasons, but it was still crowded.  We got to the park before 8:30am, thinking we would be ahead of most of the crowds, but it was already packed by then. 

Lots of tour guides in that line, each with a stack of passports to get through. 

We also found Zhangjiajie to be a bit xenophobic at the moment.  The woman who looked at our documents at the train station didn’t want to let us through despite the fact that we are vaccinated, have a clean travel history and haven’t left China in a year and a half.  We also had COVID tests done 3 weeks prior, but she wanted much more recent ones.  She did let us in, in the end, but for anyone reading this and planning a trip to Zhangjiajie this summer, you might want to get a test done a few days before. 

This app tracks all the places I’ve been in the previous 2 weeks.  If I have been in any medium or high risk areas, it turns yellow or red.  It’s all tracked by my phone’s GPS.  I have 4 different versions of these apps and they ALL show green. We showed her the 2 most commonly known ones and she still wasn’t happy.  Most places are happy with the green code and vaccination record.  Not Zhangjiajie though!!

However, no matter how many little inconveniences we faced, I would still recommend Zhangjiajie to anyone who has a little patience and perseverance.  It’s really an out of this world kind of place to visit, and here’s why:

The Park is HUGE!

To counter my complaint about the crowds, I must also mention the size of Zhangjiajie.  If you take any of the hiking trails, you’ll be able to avoid most the crowds.  We spent a good portion of our day on the Golden Whip Trail.  A lot of it is flat so even if you aren’t super fit, you’ll be ok. 

The trail is about 7km long and follows a beautiful little river the whole way. You can get some really nice views of the mountains from below. The water is cold too, so if you start to overheat, you can dip your feet in to cool down. Golden Whip Trail was actually my favorite part of Zhangjiajie, and we did it twice. We went up and also down the river, rather than racing the crowds.

This isn’t the only way to get around, of course. There are buses that take you from scenic spot to scenic spot once you’re up in the mountains. They were making me really car sick though, so we avoided them when we could. There are also cable cars and elevators to get you up to the peak and most scenic spots, but there are often 2 hour lines to get into them. We took the stairs instead.

There were a lot of them, but we took it slow and stopped often for water, and it was fine.

The Scenery

We only really had time for 1 scenic spot, so we chose the Avatar Mountains. Also called Yuanjiajie mountains, these peaks were stunning. My favorite view of them was our first… Right when we made it to the peak, but before we met up with the swarms of tourists that had taken the cable cars up.

Not only was it stunning, it was also peaceful.

Once we were back in the crowds, the most scenic spots were all around, but it was hard for me to enjoy them with all the selfies and shouting and vendors trying to sell things. It was still beautiful, of course, but I would definitely have enjoyed it more if there had been fewer people in that small location.

For the next couple of hours, we moseyed along the park, hopping on and off buses to see the sights. Nothing we saw compared to the Avatar Mountains, but if we had scheduled another day at Zhangjiajie, we would have explored some of the more famous areas of the park.

It’s disappointing how commercialized this place has become. They have KFC, McDonald’s and so many shops and stalls… It just seems weird to me, given how beautiful of a place we were at.

We timed things well, and took the cable cars down one section of the mountain. At around 3pm, most of the tourists are seeing the major sights, so that’s when we booked our tickets down. The views were SPECTACULAR!

Once we were back down to the main level of the park, we decided to take the Golden Whip Trail back, rather than take a bus or a taxi (there were some there, which surprised me, but they were charging WAY too much).

As the sun started to go down, the trail was even prettier.

The Wildlife

Another thing worth noting is the wildlife at Zhangjiajie. There are countless macaques that will steal your food, and chase you if you get too close.

We’d only been at the park for about 10 minutes when we watched a mother with a baby hanging onto her back lunge at a tourist, stealing their snack and running off with it. It was pretty funny to be a spectator, but given how aggressive these monkeys can be, I’m glad I wasn’t the one holding the food!!

Other notable wildlife were the birds and insects in the park. There were cicada-type insects buzzing up a storm, and in the silence, I find the sound to be calming. It reminds me that I’m in nature, and that makes me happy!

This little creature can make a LOT of noise!!

Zhangjiajie is really an incredible place. There are plenty of great lodgings to be found in the areas just outside the park. We stayed at the Forest Glass Inn and loved it. There were about 700 stairs to climb to get there, but the view was spectacular and the hotel was lovely.

I’m very happy we went, and I would encourage anyone to go!

With views like this, who wouldn’t want to go here!?

Our next stop on our trip is a 10 day stay in Hainan! We loved it so much at Christmas that we decided to come back. I’ll also be able to finish some of my posts that I never had a chance to finish then! (Food poisoning affected our last few days there).

I’ll finally get to finish my post with all my best photos!

I’ll be back soon!!

Gorgeous Guangxi – Yangshuo

The very first place Dave and I traveled together once we moved to China was Guilin. We visited a beautiful cave, took a Cruise down the Li River and climbed up to the top of the Longji Rice terraces. It was an epic 4 days and I often think back to them fondly. There was one place in the area though, that we didn’t get to see properly: Yangshuo.

We loved the area on our last trip, but we were disappointed that we only got to spend a few hours in Yangshuo. This summer, with so much time to travel, we decided to fix that and spend a few nights there! Here’s how we spent our time….

Seeing The Countryside

A lot of our time was spent cruising around on our ebikes, checking out the sights and stopping whenever we saw something interesting. I think that is my favourite way to see a new place, but it’s not something we can easily do in China, where international drivers’ licenses aren’t recognized. Luckily, in Yangshuo, you can rent ebikes anyway.

The man we rented them from charged them for us every night too! For only 60rmb per day, it was a great way to get around!

There are several old bridges and ancient towns where you can stop in. Fuli Ancient Town was one of our stops. They are famous there for making hand painted fans. In the heat of the day, it seemed like most of the shops were closed, but a few were open for business and it looked like they offer painting classes as well.

Another benefit of driving around on your own is that you can stop and enjoy the scenery whenever you want, and you can stop and eat at little roadside restaurants. We enjoyed some bamboo rice, beerfish (both local specialties) and a sunset on our last night.

With plenty of small roads to explore, you can easily spend a day driving around, stopping for a swim or a plate of watermelon if you get too hot or hungry. The roads aren’t too crazy. Just be sure to be vigilant, and to not drive too aggressively, and you should be fine. Of course, Yangshuo City is a little crazier of a place to be driving.

Yangshuo City

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Yangshuo itself. Something tells me that a few years ago, it would have been a quaint place to visit, but nowadays, it feels a bit like a party town. You can find KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks and all the usual western chains in the city, and there are plenty of places to stop for food too.

During the day, you get a lot of people shopping for souvenirs, at the end of their Li River Cruises. Down by the water, you can see the men who fish with birds, and even take a dip in the river (it moves pretty quickly though, so you’ll want to be careful).

Night life in Yangshuo involves loud music, dancers, club antics and people trying to pull you into their bars or stores. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for people in their early 20s, but we weren’t feeling much like parting, so we didn’t spend a lot of time in Yangshuo.

Ruyifeng Cable Car

Our trip to Ruyifeng Cable Car was actually the highlight of my time in Yangshuo this time around. Not only was the cable car ride itself spectacular, but there is tons to see once you’re up there too. We did the full circuit, seeing the suspension bridge and both glass bridges and it took us over 2 hours to explore it all.

It was quite hot up there, so the climb was a bit rough, but we took it slow, stopped for lots of water (and ice cream!) and got to see so many incredible views of the surrounding area. It was well worth the 200rmb each that we paid.

The suspension bridge was sturdier than many I’ve been on in China. There were red ribbons tied along a lot of it, making it really stand out against all the green. I think I like this better than the locks that are often put on bridges like this.

This picture turned out a lot cooler than I thought it was going to!

There are 2 glass bridges as well. I don’t typically bother with them because I usually find them overpriced, plus I’m dubious of their safety, but these ones were included in the price, and seemed to be well maintained. You need to rent 5rmb booties to cover your shoes, so the glass isn’t scratched up. It was actually pretty cool to see! My legs hardly shook at all!!

I was really impressed with this part of our trip. The whole area was well maintained and staff were there cleaning up any litter left behind by inconsiderate guests. Things weren’t priced too high, and overall, it was just a really nice experience.

If you get your tickets right at the site, they are 260rmb each, but our hotel was able to save us some money and we only paid 200 (around 40 dollars Canadian). We spent about 3 hours there in total and got to see the countryside from a stunning vantage point. I’d recommend it to anyone, honestly, even if you don’t do the big walk around.

Other Things to Do

There were a few things that we had wanted to do but couldn’t, like rafting down the Yulong River, or seeing the Yangshuo evening show. Both would have been nice, but funds and time were an issue, so we had to skip them this time around.

We did year from many people that the night show is spectacular, but we really enjoyed hiking and taking in the natural beauty of Guanxi, so I can’t say we made a bad choice.

With so much beauty to be seen, I wanted to spend as much time outside as possible!

Our next stop on this journey was to the world famous park: Zhangjiajie!!! Thanks to the areas otherworldly landscapes, the movie Avatar was filmed there. We had a great time and I’ll be back to write about it soon!!

Guiyang: Day trips

Guizhou might be poorer than other Chinese provinces, but what it lacks in financial wealth, it makes up for with rugged beauty. The province boasts plenty of natural wonders, such as caves and China’s tallest waterfall, and it is also culturally relevant as well, with its many minority villages.  If you head out to this part of China, and visit only Guiyang City, you’ll be missing out on a lot!  Let’s take a look. 

Day Trips

Our day trip gang

There are plenty of short trips you can take and still be back in time for hot pot in Guiyang City.  On this last trip, we had plans to visit China’s tallest waterfall, Huangguoshu, but there was a mix up with our driver and he thought we wanted to go to a waterfall that was much closer to the city.  We stayed flexible and decided to make 2 stops closer by instead.  Here’s what we did.


I had never heard of Tianhetan when we lived in Guiyang, and it is all in very good shape, so I think it might be a new attraction, built quite recently. Our plan was to go to Huangguoshu, but our driver wasn’t actually prepared to go that far for the 500rmb we had negotiated. Instead, we agreed to pay him 80rmb and he dropped us off at the park and went on his merry way. I’m still not entirely sure if he just genuinely misunderstood us, or if he was trying to make an easy buck on (what he thought were) some dumb foreigners, but either way, I didn’t want to be in a car with him all day, so I was happy with the solution.

We hiked around for a little bit and enjoyed the scenery. There was a coffee shop that made pretty awful sour coffee and poor Kim ended up with an insect in hers, but at least coffee was available! Guizhou has come a long way!

We didn’t really have a specific plan of what we wanted to see in Tianhetan, because we’d only learned about it that morning, but we moseyed around and eventually came upon signs for a cave. Caves are one of Guizhou’s specialties. On we went!

The boatride into the cave was a bit cheesy but honestly quite enjoyable. The cave itself was very well lit up, and there were plenty of beautiful areas. It went on for much longer than I expected it to! Of course, there are people snapping your photo along the way and you can buy them a little further down the cave for an inflated price. It’s a nice momento if you happen to look good in the picture (I almost never do).

We were actually trying to find the waterfall, but weren’t too tenacious about it. We kept enjoying the paths and eventually found our way out of the park and onto the next leg of our journey.

Qingyan Ancient Town

I’ve actually been to Qingyan Ancient Town 3 times now, and each time it was pleasant in its own way. Like many ancient towns, there are shops galore where you can buy silver jewelry and plenty of Guizhou specialty snacks.

There are plenty of restaurants where you can sit down and have some lunch as well. Make sure to try the Yang Yu Ba (potato patties). They are stellar! Pigs feet are also always on the menu in this ancient town.

We didn’t stay for long on this trip, because we’d spent so much time in Tianhetan, and we ended up in a Guizhou-style thunderstorm, so we headed back before I’d really wanted to. If you’re looking for a chill way to spend some time, Qingyan Ancient Town is a great way to achieve that goal. You can easily pair this trip with a visit to Tianhetan as well, because both are easily accessible by Didi.

Weekend Trips

There are honestly so many different places where you can take weekend Trips in Guizhou. For this post, I’m only writing about the places that I have personally been. The two trips that Dave and I took while living in Guiyang are still some of my favorite memories of living out that way. Zhenyuan Ancient Town and Xijiang Minority Village are definitely worth the trip!

Xinjiang Minority Village

The view from a rice Paddy

Xijiang and Kaili were actually one of our last stops when we lived in Guiyang. Looking back, I really wish we had done more traveling out there, but we were pretty overwhelmed at the time and I worked quite a bit. I am glad that we at least made time for Xijiang though.

Dave in Xijiang, 2016

Minority villages are everywhere in China, but the closest we’ve come to feeling like one was authentic was in Guizhou. You’ll see traditional architecture in these towns and people will often be in traditional costumes as well. There are always trinkets and souvenirs to buy and local food to taste. When we lived in Guizhou, I took this a bit for granted. I found Xijiang to feel a lot more authentic than Tongli, in Suzhou.

People still live in these towns, and although it isn’t 100% authentically traditional, they are still farming with hand ploughs and there are beautiful rice paddies all around. It’s peaceful.

To get to Xijiang, you can take a bus or a slow train to Kaili. We actually went after classes one Sunday night, and got to Kaili at around 11pm. Getting a taxi was rough (it would be easier now with Didi), and when we got to our hotel, they didn’t want to take us, because we are foreigners.

**Pro China Tip** I strongly suggest booking with if you are staying in more remote places. We’ve had a few bad experiences in the past where we’ve arrived at the hotel, only to find out that they can’t take foreigners. If this happens when you booked with, you aren’t going to get much support. If you go with, however, they’ll find you a new room. They offer much better support in that regard.

Zhenyuan Ancient Town

Of all our weekend trips during our time in Guizhou, my favorite was definitely Zhenyuan. We went there in an attempt to escape the noise and pollution of the city. We needed to unwind and Zhenyuan was perfect for that.

This clean and peaceful river was soothing to my culture shocked soul.

I wrote a couple of posts about our time in Zhenyuan, and they are actually 2 of my most viewed posts of all time. Not many people visit that little gem of a town, so they don’t realize that they’re missing out. Zhenyuan was the first little Guizhou adventure Dave and I took in that first year living in China, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

If you want to read more about our trip to Zhenyuan, you can click here or here! There are lots of pictures and tips of what you can do and see there!

6 years later and I’m still proud of this picture!!

Other Options

Of course, these are just the places we ended up going, but there are plenty of other places you can visit within a day as well. Huangguoshu Waterfall along with the beautiful scenery nearby is an excellent option. Dragon Palace is nearby too, where you can see over 90 karst caves. Guizhou is full of natural beauty that you can see on a day trip outside of Guiyang.

If you have a bit more time, there are some incredible options to see other ancient towns, hike Mount Fanjing, or even visit Zunyi, home of China’s most famous brand of alcohol: Moutai.

With Guizhou’s milder climate and natural beauty, I really don’t think you can go wrong visiting this beautiful province. I may be a little biased because I called this place home for a year, but I think that as long as you have a sense of adventure Guiyang is a must see if you live in China!!

There is a higher ratio of squatter toilets in Guizhou, and your bed may not be as soft as you’re used to, but those are minor inconveniences in return for all this province has to offer!

The next stop on this epic 2021 Summer trip is the city of Yangshuo, in Guanxi Province!! We were there once before, but this trip was just as epic (and full of totally new experiences!!)

Spoiler: It was Beautiful!!!

Hot but beautiful!! Stay tuned!

Guiyang City

To some, Guiyang might seem like a pretty mundane place.  It doesn’t have Pandas, like Chengdu, or Gardens, like Suzhou.   It doesn’t have the glitz of Shanghai or the history of Beijing.  But that certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth visiting, and here’s why…

Abundant Beauty


Now, I know that there are certainly some run-down areas of Guiyang, but it’s undeniably pretty too!  Downtown, by the river, is always a lovely place to take a walk. 

Day or night

The limestone mountains in the area also make the city beautiful. I’ve been going through a lot of my old blog posts recently, and found a great video in one of my last posts before we left Guiyang. You can watch it here.

The view from our old apartment

There are a few things you can do in Guiyang too, like visiting the minority museum or popping by a Temple near the river.

Dave circa 2015, “holding up” the minority museum
We only stumbled upon this temple in our 2021 trip. We lived in Guiyang for a year without every seeing it!

The thing I find most beautiful about Guiyang isn’t its pagodas or temples though. What I love most is the abundance of trees in Guiyang. It’s the greenest city I’ve seen in China. I really hope this doesn’t change as it continues to develop.


My favorite breakfast noodles!

For me, Guiyang is all about food! Hot pot, disc barbecue, street food, spices, fresh herbs…. Guizhou has it all! There are more varieties of hot pot than anywhere else I know of in China. Hot and Sour fish hot pot, fermented soybean Hotpot, creamy kidney bean hot pot…I cannot get enough of it!

And hot pot isn’t where it ends! One of the things that I love about Guiyang’s food scene is that there are still so many Mom and Pop type places all over the city. We never had to go to a single franchise restaurant the whole time we were there. In fact, we hardly see them! Great little craft beer places and independent coffee shops have opened in recent years too!

And of course, there’s street food! Glorious, delicious street food! It can’t all be trusted to be clean, admittedly, but generally, if there is a line up, it’s safe!!

Rotisserie wings and drums!!!! The stuff of legends!!!

Monkey Park (Qinglingshan)

On this last trip to Guiyang, we didn’t make it to Qinglingshan, but we’ve been there many times in the past, so I thought I should include it in this post. Qinglingshan is home to hundreds of cheeky macaques who will steal your food, drink your water and try to take off with your bag.

It is a lovely place to spend a day visiting though, and you won’t regret making the trip, even if your water does get stolen.

On our last trip, actually, the bigger problem was the people, not the monkeys. For some reason, people seemed to think it was ok to throw garbage at the macaques. I told off two different people who were doing this and encouraging their kids to join in too.

Don’t be cheeky to them and they might not be cheeky with you!

The park is huge, so you can easily spend a day there. Honestly, I have been there half a dozen times and still haven’t seen it all! There are plenty of trails to follow, and all over the park you’ll find people dancing, playing traditional instrument’s, spinning tops, or maybe even fighting off a monkey. There’s never a dull moment!

If you’re looking for beauty, great food, and a laid back place to spend a few days, Guiyang is a great spot for you! The weather is comfortable and the cuisine is to die for… Make your way to Guiyang soon!

It’s a great place to see, either solo, or with a group of friends!

I’ll be back soon with some ideas for day trips in Guizhou province and even some suggestions for weekend getaways! Check back soon!!