Back With My Ex: Thailand

Since I got back together with my ex, Thailand, things have been going quite smoothly. We’re happy now. Well, I’m happy now. Mr. Land o’ Smiles is always happy. It’s like I could be anyone, and he wouldn’t even notice with all the bikini-clad tourists around here, but I guess I’ll just have to get used to that.

He does get jealous about one thing, though. He really doesn’t like the love letter he found from me to Hong Kong. In all the time we were together before, he complains, he never got a letter like that.

It wasn’t for lack of feeling, I tell him. I love you more, I say. But after a few months of flirting with China, only to have him throw up all over your face, anyone would fall madly in love with Hong Kong. And while Hong Kong will remain a very memorable one-night stand (uh hum, okay, we might have continued our affair for several nights, on more than one occasion…but who’s counting?), it was just a fling. Thailand and I go way back…to 2011. And our relationship was on an entirely different level.

Anyway, here’s my attempt to clear up any confusion about who holds my heart. Better late than never.

Dear Thailand,

I wasn’t fair to you before. I admitted my love for you, yes, but I didn’t shout it from the top of Mt. Kangchenjunga in India like I should have. The reason is because you were my first love, and I wasn’t yet sure what lay beyond your borders. Did I love you for the amazing country you are, or just because I didn’t know any better? Would I love another country just the same?

Now I know. There is no other country like you, Thailand. I’ve not yet seen them all, but I’ve seen enough to know my love for you will probably never be topped. And it’s not just for your flawless good looks and your splendid personality. It’s not only for your karmic beliefs, your aversion to fighting and your ability to accept all people with open arms (except those bikini-clad girls, but I’ll let it slide). It’s not even just because you give a damn good massage and you’re smokin’ hot. In fact, sometimes you’re so hot I can’t stand it!

Loong Dum Beach, Koh Samet Thailand
Loong Dum Beach, Koh Samet Thailand

I love you because of how you make me feel. When I’m with you I’m relaxed, confident and in control, yet I’m motivated, carefree and, in reality, have no control at all. I never know when or if my bus will actually arrive, whether or not I’ll have a job or where I’ll live when I do get one. When I’m with you, I’m completely okay with knowing nothing except that everything always works out how it should.

I love you because when I arrived at your airport for the second time, I felt like I had come home. When I took a taxi, you told me (via the driver) you thought I was beautiful. You said it four times – three in Thai and once in English – just to make sure I understood, which was probably necessary after four months in China and six weeks in India where the only comments I got on my appearance were various renditions of, “What happened to your face?”

Trust me. I fell in love with you all over again in that moment, and I knew that following my heart back to you was the best decision I could have made. You kept a piece of my heart when I left you last time, Thailand, and I’m pretty sure it will be yours forever.

With more love than Hong Kong,


Back With My Ex: Thailand
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

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

The Traveler’s Itch: Next Stop, India.

It’s been years since I first experienced it. My first overseas trip was for a study abroad opportunity in college. I went to Oviedo, Spain (in Asturias, near the northern coast) and lived with an eccentric, if not crazy, host mother by the name of Angeles. I studied Spanish by weekday and explored on the weekends. After four months I was ready to return home, that having been the longest time I’ve spent away, but it wasn’t long after that I began to develop that pesky little problem seasoned travelers know well – The Itch.

“See and be seen” is a motto in this part of Spain. This is Angeles in her usual outdoor attire. She liked to be seen.

For two years, The Itch ceased to disappear with the brutal reality that I couldn’t afford to travel. I could barely pay my rent each month, let alone afford an expensive plane ticket to somewhere exotic. But The Itch doesn’t care about reality, and it doesn’t dissipate when you try to relieve it with the calm understanding of “Not now. Maybe later.” Instead, it gets louder. It becomes so painful that you can’t take it anymore. Soon, you’re researching enticing getaways, from the southern coastline of Argentina to the high peaks of Tibet and everything in your body (and your more-than-amazing group of friends) is saying, “Just go. You only live once.”

But here’s the problem: When you scratch the itch, it still doesn’t go away. It just gets worse. Mine has become so bothersome that it even approaches me while I am traveling! After three or four months in Thailand, I was counting the days for my next big adventure. My feet began to dance around my tiny wooden hut as I became restless from remaining in one place for so long, and antsy with anticipation of my upcoming two months of escapades around Southeast Asia.

Mine was the middle hut. Photo courtesy of Jon Watkins, Editor

When I returned to Oregon, I stayed for less than three months. I admit my departure was a bit premature – I wasn’t quite ready for the next stop yet; the newness of home had yet to wear off – but my wallet was empty and an opportunity to teach presented itself far too easily. So I snatched it. I knew that if I didn’t, in one more month I’d be kicking myself with regret and searching for a way, any way, to get out of my beloved hometown.

Now, I’ve been in China not quite four months and I’m rearing for another adventure. It sounds selfish, I know. I’m living in Asia, teaching English to an amazing group of kids at a job that requires only 20 hours a week for a paycheck more than twice that of the locals, and includes two months of paid holiday. Two months! But perhaps that’s why The Itch is back. I’ve known these two months were approaching, and that they’d be here before I knew it. I knew this back when I was battling homesickness and fighting with China, so I booked my ticket to India.

My freshmen students during their mandatory military training.
My freshmen students in China during their mandatory military training.

With the prospect of a new adventure looming not far in the future, my spirits were lifted. I knew I didn’t need to go home, I just needed to satisfy The Itch. Sometimes a plane ticket is all it takes…at least for a little while.

Tomorrow, I fly into Delhi. Five weeks later, I fly out of Chennai. The middle is to be filled with camel rides in the desert, yoga in the mountains, and Couchsurfing with locals, but all the details are up for debate. Afterward, I’m going to return to Thailand to visit my friends in Suwannaphum and get my fix of the relaxed Thai culture I’ll undoubtedly need after the hustle and bustle of India and before I return to the crowds of China for yet another four months of teaching.

After that, I know I’ll be eager to return home for yet another harvest with my family and good times with my friends before I leave for my next, slightly different but still exciting adventure: graduate school in Colorado.

I have yet to miss a wheat harvest in 16 years! Elvis is my companion.
I have yet to miss a wheat harvest in 16 years! That is my companion, Elvis, and I.

However, the more I travel the worse The Itch becomes, and I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever leave me alone long enough to stay in one place for more than a few months before the twitch between my toes returns with a vengeance.

The answer? Probably not.

The Traveler’s Itch: Next Stop, India
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

How to Survive the End of the World

For final exams, my students became the teachers. I learned all kinds of things from proper Chinese table manners and new dinner recipes, to magic tricks and origami, to kung fu and basketball. I learned how to weave a scarf and make traditional Chinese paper cuts. I also learned about the famous foods in provinces around the country, which made me eager to visit.

Photo of Mahjong, courtesy of the free stock at

Later, I learned how to play Uno, Mahjong and a variety of card games. I learned the history of traditional Han Chinese clothing, some basic yoga poses and even how to be a proper Chinese wife, in case I meet and fall in love with a Chinese man. Then I learned the aspects of a traditional wedding, including the jokes played on the happy couple that signify good luck for a fast baby. But before the love and marriage stuff, I was informed (twice) on how to properly care for a baby because, you know, I’m probably going to want one of those one day soon.

The most interesting exam, however, might belong to Harden, the student who gave me four tips for “surviving” the end of the world. His number one suggestion? Find a rich boyfriend who owns either a helicopter or a hot air balloon so we can rise above the destruction and share the world’s most romantic experience together.

#2: Everybody should know Chinese Kung Fu, then the aliens and zombies would be too scared to attack. (Thank goodness another student taught me that.)

#3: Adopt a pet. At least you won’t die alone. (I’m one step ahead!)

#4: Never say never. Learn how to eat everything that flies, walks and swims, because you never know. (Luckily, I’m an adventurous eater.)

Taken by the waitress.
Taken by the waitress.

After the exams, Harden’s class invited me to dinner. We went to a local restaurant and the students asked what I wanted. I replied anything but the dog (which was on the menu) and we feasted on things such as sweet and sour chicken, grilled eggplant, frogs, fried lotus root, pig intestine and more.

Nobody expected me to try the frog. It was placed at the opposite end of a table large enough for 18 of us, and when I said I wanted some, they eagerly filled my rice bowl with a variety of juicy parts (more than just the legs, folks!). It tasted delicious, and I ate everything but the skin (eww). When I was finished, Harden was impressed.

“You stronger girl than I thought you are,” he said. “I think you can survive the end of the world.”

After everybody was full, we went across the street to play Mahjong. We enjoyed a great night of laughs, beers and learning how to play one of China’s most traditional and fun games. The students were good about explaining everything to me in English. It seems this class took their exams seriously. And for that, they all got A’s.

How to Survive the End of the World
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

Charades in Zhaoqing, China


I should have played Charades more often when I was young, but back then, I couldn’t have known how useful the art of body language can be when traveling the world. My Chinese skills range between shoddy and nonexistent, leaving me up for a challenge whenever I leave the security bubble of Peizheng College, where nearly everybody speaks at least some English.

Two weekends ago, I had a serious craving for adventure. I flipped open my found 2002 Lonely Planet China in search of a day trip that would curb my appetite and give me a reason to get out of town. I landed on this description of a smallish city only hours away: “Home to some craggy limestone rock formations similar to those around Guilin…”

The beauty of Yangshuo without the nightmare of getting there? Sold.


I stepped off the bus in Zhaoqing where approximately nobody speaks English. Luckily, on the way in I noticed the limestone mountains known as the Seven Star Crags (named from the belief that the rocks were formed after seven stars fell from the sky and formed a pattern resembling the Big Dipper) only a few blocks away. I walked back, made my way around the beautiful lake and down tree-lined pathways to the entrance. I paid Y60 to enter and managed to lose more than half a day wandering through, up and around the scenic reserve.



It was late afternoon by the time I finished hiking to the top to see the view, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to go to the nearby Dinghu Shan area that Lonely Planet claims is one of the most scenic spots in all of Guangdong. I decided to take a solo walking tour of the city while I tried to find a hostel a friend told me about, though I had no idea I’d end up on a wild goose chase.

I had the address, and I found the correct street (or so I thought), but there were no numbers on the buildings. I asked several shop owners for their addresses by pointing to a business card and asking for theirs. It turns out, nobody knows their business address in Zhaoqing, but they’re eager to help. One nice lady pointed me in the right direction.

But she was wrong.

So I walked all the way back, and found a dead end.

Three hours and a few sidewalk snacks later, I stopped into another business, mimed to a nice man what I wanted, and showed him the hostel name I had written down. He Googled it and then gave me a motorbike ride. I was less than a block away, but the building lacked an English sign (despite the English website) and I knew I never would have found it on my own.

Once there, the woman asked me for Y80. “But online it’s only Y50,” I tried to reason with her. My friend had quoted the price from the hostel’s website.

She wrote 80 again on her paper, not understanding a word of my English. I pointed at her computer, said 50 in Chinese and made the sign for sleep and pointed upstairs. This incomprehensible conversation went on for a good 10 minutes, despite the fact I was ready to give her the Y80 she asked for. But she was determined and called her son.

“Room no have wifi,” he told me over the phone.

“I don’t need wifi in the room,” I said. “I was just trying to say that your website says the cost for the room is Y50, not Y80, so I’d like to only pay Y50.”

“We no have wifi in room. My mother say tell you we no have wifi.”

“I no need wifi.”

“Oh, you no need wifi in room?”

“No. I pay 50. Okay?”

“Oh! You want pay 50? Okay! You pay 50. I tell my mother now.”



The next morning I woke before the sun to give myself enough time to climb the mountain and return to Guangzhou before the last bus would depart for Peizheng. I found a taxi and asked him to take me to the local bus station where Lonely Planet suggested I start.

“Chi che,” I said in Chinese, without consulting my notes. “Qu Dinghu Shan.” Go Dinghu Mountain. I moved my hands as if I were steering the wheel of a bus, in my mind, and he told me it would be Y10 to take me there.

We drove around the corner, and he pulled over at the sidewalk bus stop and pointed to the number 21. I laughed and tried again to tell him to take me to the bus station where I could buy a ticket and actually know where my bus was headed, but I failed. I paid him and found another taxi.

Soon I was back at the Seven Star Crags, the driver having understood only the word mountain from my slaughtered pronunciation.


“No, no, no.” I said. “Bu yao jigga.” No want this. “Yao Dinghu shan.” I drew a mountain with my fingers, and again tried my charades for bus.

Eventually, I did take the number 21 bus to the end of the line and the first taxi driver was right – it took me directly to the base of Dinghu Shan. I paid another Y60 to enter the protected reserve and began my accent up the paved pathway.


I spent some time at the waterfall where locals were practicing Tai Chi and singing opera, then I walked further up to the Buddhist temple and bowed to the Almighty before continuing to Boading Park on top of the mountain, where one of the largest caldren replicas sits. Locals try their hardest to throw bouncy balls wrapped in lucky red ribbon into its center.



I was exhausted from the hours of walking I had done, so when I began my decent, I gave an empty tour bus a friendly smile and got myself a ride. I assumed he asked where I was going and so again I said chi che. He then asked me if I wanted to drive his bus. I know this is what he asked because he pointed to me, made the same motion with his hands on the steering wheel as I had that morning, and then signaled that he would stand near the doorway and I could sit in his seat. Then he asked again, several more times, pointing at me and then his seat and the wheel. I adamantly declined, but I was thankful for the ride.

Once I was finally headed back to Guangzhou, I pulled out my notes from Chinese class. It turns out, chi che does not mean bus. It means car, which could explain a lot of my confusion. While my Mandarin skills remain fairly stagnant, I am getting some good practice for Charades.

The Buddhist temple on Dinghu Shan.
Sticky rice dumplings are very popular in Zhaoqing, and all the village shops near Dinghu Shan were busy with preparations for the popular fast food. However, I have yet to try one I like.
Sticky rice dumplings are very popular in Zhaoqing, and all the village shops near Dinghu Shan were busy with preparations for the popular fast food. However, I have yet to try one I like.
A young boy helps his father buy meat at the street market.
A young boy helps his father buy meat at the street market.
Riding bikes around the park near the Seven Star Crags is a popular pastime for Chinese tourists.
Riding bikes around the park near the Seven Star Crags is a popular pastime for Chinese tourists.

Charades in Zhaoqing
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

Peeing in Public: China’s Dirty Streets

I gasped when I rode by the adult woman squatting, her bare ass facing the road, her gaze upon the green fields out yonder. I pedaled my red, gearless, child-size bike past her and onto the busy roadway toward Shiling, the village north of Peizheng College, and reminded myself not to be shocked. I’ve squatted numerous times before – in wheat fields and alongside the highway each time I made the drive between Bend, Oregon and my parents’ house – but the difference between this woman and I, is I might rather pee my pants than give an audience a front-row show.

This sight really shouldn’t catch me off guard by now. It seems it doesn’t matter whether I’m strolling through a village, walking down a crowded sidewalk or waiting at the bus stop – the ground (or garbage can, or tree, or…) might as well be a public restroom in China.


Peeing in public is an accepted act, it seems, for a child under say five (and that’s being generous), and parents often aid their children: I’ve seen fathers instruct their sons to urinate into a manmade pond in the middle of a nicely landscaped park in Guangzhou’s business district; I’ve witnessed a mother hold her small child over a garbage can and help her to aim for the hole, not 12 inches from where I sat waiting for my bus.

The Chinese have even manufactured crotch-less pants for babies under a certain age – I’ve seen toddlers daunting them, some with a diaper sagging through the bottom of their britches, others free to go wherever they please.

Photo credit goes to

Urinating isn’t the only thing the streets are good for. Spitting loogies and blowing snot are even more common, sound effects and all. I guess the pollution makes it a necessary evil, or something like that. I’m still not convinced there’s much of an excuse for peeing in public unless you’re miles from a restroom and you at least make an attempt to hide yourself, but what do I know?

I once saw a girl of about 12 remove her school uniform and relieve herself on the fancy brick decor surrounding a tree on a busy street and I remember thinking, I think she’s a bit too old for that. Now I’ve seen a full-grown woman in her 30’s strip her britches and let loose, and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last time.

Note: Featured photo courtesy of The B Family AdventuresI wanted to post a picture for proof of this absurdity, but I can’t snap a proper picture without looking like a complete pervert. And, even when I do decide to take my chances, I can never quite lift my jaw from the grimy street and place my camera to my eye in enough time to even try. I did, however, manage to get this terrible shot (the first one) as an afterthought walking by, and then I felt like I should be the one going to jail for my indecency. Oh well.

Award: Best Teaching Abroad Blogs 2012

I won an award I didn’t know I was nominated for. The email came as a shock when I read, “Your blog has been selected by TeacherPort as one of the winners of the Best Teaching Abroad Blogs of 2012!

I’m honored to be amongst the other fine finalists on this list, and I encourage you to check them out as well. If you’re interested in teaching abroad, reading blogs about personal experiences both in and out of the classroom are the most honest, up-to-date form of information you’ll find. Plus, most of us who write about our adventures overseas are always eager to answer any questions you might have. Don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Here’s a big THANK YOU to (a wonderfully helpful tool in itself) for this awesome award.

If you missed it before, click here to read my five simple steps on how to find a teaching job in Asia, over at, another great source for anybody preparing to hit the road.