- Family Travelers
- Vacation Places
- Trip Ideas
- Hotels & Resorts
- Hot Deals
- Tips & Gear
- My Travels
Lost and Alone in China
Lost and Alone in China
I stared in stubborn disbelief as the last bar of life drained from my China Telecom mobile phone and, in spite of my furiously tapping fingers, its screen faded to black. At this moment I realized the bleakness of my situation. I was effectively alone, in a maze, surrounded by Chinese people with whom I could not communicate. Meanwhile, my American friends were nowhere to be found and their phone numbers were lost within my dead phone. The idea that I, a foreign exchange student traversing China with a dozen other Americans and several Chinese teachers, had somehow managed to be separated from my conspicuous group seemed ridiculous. But I had a plan.
► Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
The day of our class trip to Wuzhen began as most summer days in southern China do — with overwhelming heat and smog. Fourteen winners of the US Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative Youth scholarship, including myself, disembarked from the bus that had taken us from our host school in Changzhou, to the ancient town called Wuzhen. Meeting up with our tour guide, we began to navigate the town’s canals. By the time that noon rolled around, our group was hungry for any local cuisine. As we waited for our tour guide to make a restaurant reservation, I decided that I would take a minute to buy myself a fan.
Well, one minute turned into five as I haggled with a shopkeeper over the price of her expensive fan. By the time that I had bought the fan and turned to leave the shop, I could see that my class had left. With panic building in my chest, I attempted to ask nearby shopkeepers if they knew where “the Americans” had gone. Only one man seemed to know what I was asking, and he led me down a nearby street with promises that “wǒ de péngyǒu” were just around the corner. However, after wandering up and down this street for a few minutes it became apparent that my American friends had not gone in that direction.
I was faced with a daunting dilemma. Should I continue to wander around asking passersby if they had seen any American teenagers, or should I attempt to make my way back to the bus we had arrived in? I decided that I should make my way back to the tour bus. However, there was one more problem. Wuzhen was a confusing place and we had been walking its winding paths for hours; I had no clue how to get back to the parking lot.
At this point I realized that I needed to act resourcefully. From out of my pocket I withdrew one electronic device that had not died— my digital camera. I remembered that I had taken pictures of Wuzhen’s monuments and decided that these would lead me back to the parking lot.
Cornering random museum workers, I asked them to point me in the direction of each successive image, moving from frame to frame through the town. It took me an hour to return to the town’s entrance and the parking lot. In that parking lot I found our empty tour bus and waited until my Chinese teachers spotted me and we were happily reunited.
While I initially felt embarrassed about getting lost on a group field trip in China, I now look back upon that day with a different perspective. I realize that I could have wandered helplessly and I could have abandoned my logic to panic. Instead I discovered my own resourcefulness, which I had never needed in my day-to-day life as a suburban American teenager.