Goodbye, Acne. Goodbye, China.

I just gave up the only job I’m probably ever going to have that requires me to work less than 20 hours a week, only eight months a year, and pays me for two of the other four. But before you call me crazy, hear me out.

Some of you know from our Skype chats that a few weeks after arrival in China my face exploded in a shattered array of white and red zits much like the firework pattern I witnessed nightly from my apartment there (the students light them off whenever an upperclassmen starts dating a freshmen girl). At first I thought it was just the small breakout that occurs each time I travel to a new country, but before I knew it, the acne had manifested and refused to dissipate.

Not only is it the most hideous, disgusting, embarrassing, hibernation-worthy thing that’s ever happened to me (it definitely tops falling in the pool at that swanky L.A. party), but it was painful and itchy, too.

I tried to remedy it with internet research and frequent visits to Watsons, and each time I would try something new, it would appear to heal – but only temporarily. By the end of four months, I knew I needed to see a dermatologist, and that I wasn’t going to do it on the mainland after the stories I’d heard. One of my friends went to get his testicle tested and was told they needed to operate. Thankfully, he denied their urgent request and returned to the U.S. instead, where the doctors told him he surely would have died in the Chinese operating room had the doctors done what they suggested. (He blogs about this experience and many others here.)

I know my acne doesn’t pose a death threat, but I’ve also seen the inside of two hospitals that I don’t care to revisit, and been totally ripped off at a private clinic. Plus, all of these experiences were met with doctors who didn’t speak English well enough to satisfy my need to know what I’m putting in and on my body.

Then I thought, Maybe it will just go away when I leave China? It did improve rapidly in my first two weeks away, but then it got worse again. So I finally went to a skin doctor (India’s doctors are quite reputable and they speak English) with one of my Couchsurf hosts and have been following a strict regimen since. It improved, however painfully slow, and I’m confident it will fade in due time.

I’m not confident, however, that if I return to China I can handle another four months of the acne at it’s worst. In fact, I don’t think another four months of an awesome job (albeit in a country I don’t really enjoy living in) is worth the potential scars I could be left with on the one part of my body that’s impossible to hide. I’ve decided instead to follow my heart, not knowing exactly where it would lead me. When I really listened however, it screamed for Thailand.

When my plane landed in Bangkok, I felt like I had come home. And since I’ve arrived, things have fallen into place. I’m staying with a friend who, unbeknownst to me, lives one block from my agency’s office. My old boss is pulling magic cards out of an ordinary deck to find me a job at this point in the semester (the Thai school year will end around March 15), and has promised to even hire me as a substitute for next semester, should I still be here.

Until my position is confirmed (a two-month summer camp is probable), I’ll be bouncing around the country working with English Camps (Get paid to travel around Thailand? Yes, please!), the first of which is in Khao Yai National Park. Even though I didn’t particularly enjoy the teaching part of my stay before, I’m excited to give it another chance with a different school.

So far, my heart has yet to lead me astray. I think I’ll listen to it more often. China can keep it’s (up-and-over-the-top-of-the-charts) pollution, sulfuric water, oily foods and whatever other component is responsible for messing up my face. I’ll be just fine right here. And when I’m not anymore, I’ll leave.


Goodbye, Acne. Goodbye, China.
Written by:Jessica J. Hill
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22 thoughts on “Goodbye, Acne. Goodbye, China.

  1. One leaves, another arrives. I understand your situation completely. I will arrive to PZ on Saturday March 2. Please keep writing and I can fill you in on my experiences at PZ and Guangzhou. Of course, your adventures will continue on deep into Latin America and the Colorado Graduate school after Thailand. Yes, I lived in Chiangmai for over 6 months, loved it! Bhat Thai, Mai Sai moo, Mai Sai Tua!- No eggs, no peanuts – will never forget the phrase.

  2. I know your pain with the breakouts. You did the right thing. In all our travels I am troubled with same type of thing. When we stop for time away my face clears up, I guess from less stress, less coffee, and less atmosphere changes. Look forward to new adventures from Thailand.

    • I’m sorry you have to deal with that, Tammy. It must be difficult to be in a new place every few days – at least I have the luxury to get into a routine when I choose. I hope you get to go home for good sometime soon!

  3. My wife had perfect skin… until she came to China. I never really cleared up properly and for the past few months she had a consistently sore throat. Two weeks in Australia for Christmas/New Years and both improved dramatically. This, and the fact that we were just done with the place inspired our decision to also get out. We’ll be out of China forever by the end of next month. The health effects of staying here far outweigh any benefits, and since we’ve started monitoring the PM 2.5 pollution levels, the increased risk of cancer means I would try to dissuade anyone that wants to move to Guangzhou or anywhere in China!

    • Thanks for your comment, Adam. I had yet to hear of this happening to anyone else, so while I feel bad for your wife, it’s nice to know I’m not alone! Good luck with leaving the country and getting settled elsewhere – I remember you saying you were ready several months ago.

  4. Been reading your site since I came to China myself a few months. Sucks to hear about your problems and sorry to hear you’re leaving (or already left I guess) China.

    Have fun back in Thailand!

      • Guangzhou actually. And yea, enjoying it for the most part. Just need to find something to do work wise. Which is how I found your blog actually 🙂 I’m leaving soon myself, but will probably come back.

      • Guangdong Peizheng College is hiring! In fact, my position is now up for grabs 😉 If you’re interested, let me know and I can send you in the right direction.

        Cheers.

      • Oh wow, that would nice! (Also, sorry, been busy last few days) I really appreciate the it, however I will be leaving China and won’t be back for at least a few months.

        Thanks though. I hope you’re having fun in Thailand.

  5. […] After our first heartfelt breakup, however, I thought I was ready for a bit more serious commitment…though not with you. With the confidence you instilled and your blessing, I signed up for 10 months with China (an entire academic year), and well, we all know how that turned out. (If you don’t, read about my allergic reaction to China here.) […]

  6. Hi Jessica,
    I’m not a medical doctor but your post about sudden acne rang a bell from a book I read many eons ago. Acne – and rashes – can be a symptom of exposure to PCBs. For sure, it can be a sign of a million other things too (like being a teenager, I recall myself!) but the PCB-exposure pathway is also possible, though how ‘probable’ I could not, of course, say. But it does happen.

    Exposure can be via ingestion, inhalation or physical contact and the acne gets better once the source of exposure is removed. That’s the thing with your getting acne on arrival – but of course, it’s very far from a cause-effect conclusion, but interesting nonetheless. There’s quite an information article here – http://www.clearwater.org/news/pcbhealth.html

    A major route of exposure is eating contaminated fish, reports the article, and I’ve read elsewhere that contaminated vegetable oils in Asia were identified as sources of PCB poisoning. I *hope* of course it wasn’t PCB exposure, but when China’s pollution is reported in the media, it refers not just to smog and exhaust, but also the truly nasty PCB stuff (from recycling western electronics in some cases).

    Glad it’s all cleared up now, poor you!!

    • Hi, Duncan! That actually makes a lot of sense as to why I might have had such a bad reaction. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m definitely going to look into PCBs, though I don’t think I’ll be returning to China any time soon 🙂

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