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After five years of living in China, and two years of This Beijing Life, things have changed. I left my job as a college counselor in China, and now I’m living a life on my terms. I’m my own boss, I travel when I want, and live where I want. I’m FINALLY living my dream of location independence.
I hope you’ll all follow me along on my new journey: The Freedom Life.
Why “The Freedom Life”?
I’ve been dreaming about being location independent for the last three years. I want to work for myself, travel as much as I want and live wherever I want. For now, that means living in Beijing and working from home. Later this year, I’ll be testing out life as a ‘digital nomad‘, traveling the world one country at a time.
For me, location independence is all about freedom. I no longer have to be at my office every day, dressed a certain way, right at 10 am. I don’t have to ask permission to travel. Every step I take will be to grow my own business, and I’m free to make those decisions for myself.
For the last two years, I’ve been writing This Beijing Life, a monthly story about my life as an expat in Beijing. But now that my life has changed, the recaps are changing along with it!
So without further ado, here is my new monthly recap series: The Freedom Life!
What I Was Up to This September
September was a crazy month! Not only did I quit my job, I also played tour guide to BOTH my parents and my boyfriend Chris‘ family. I had a great time, but it was also EXHAUSTING.
We spent the first part of the month showing Chris’ family around Beijing’s most famous sites: The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, hutongs, and Great Wall. We also helped Chris’ brother celebrate his 18th birthday in China!
After approximately two days of downtime, my parents arrived. In addition to showing them the Beijing sites, we spent two weeks traveling through Xi’an and Yunnan!
Where I Went
- The Lakeside Great Wall
- Jiankou to Mutianyu Great Wall
- Lijiang, Yunnan
- Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
- Dali, Yunnan
- Xizhou, Yunnan
- Kunming, Yunnan
Here are a few of the absolute best moments of September!
1. The Most Challenging (and Rewarding) Great Wall Hike Ever.
After a lot of research, Chris and I decided to take my parents on a Great Wall hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu. This “medium difficulty hike” involves paying a villager $1 USD to climb a ladder onto the wall, then a 4-hour hike through an unrestored section of the Great Wall, which ends at Mutianyu, one of the more touristy sections.
However, I think the information online isn’t quite so accurate. Firstly, you have to spend almost an hour HIKING A MOUNTAIN to get to the wall. Then, once you finish the Jiankou section, you have to hike the entire Mutianyu section to get off. I definitely wasn’t expecting that! I would say the entire hike is 4 hours, not including the hour to get up the mountain, and taking the cable car and bus down from Mutianyu.
That said, I had an incredible time! The Jiankou hike was the most challenging Great Wall hike I’ve ever done. It was absolutely beautiful, and let me feeling both exhausted and elated by the end.
My parents definitely questioned my judgment more than once, but after the hike, we all couldn’t stop talking about how proud of ourselves we were.
2. Eating Some Incredible Food in Xi’an
Xi’an has some amazing food and I just couldn’t get enough. The first day we were lucky enough to stumble on an awesome roujiamo place that did both roujiamo (pulled pork ‘hamburger’) and caijiamo (the vegetarian version). While I love roujiamo, I think it’s so much better to get a meat and veggie combo. Using anything aside from meat isn’t traditional, but it tastes AMAZING and I got one literally every single day I was in Xi’an.
Flavorful pulled pork, a fresh-made bun, spicy peppers, flavored carrots, pickles, and lettuce… what’s not to love?
While in Xi’an, I also had the opportunity to check out Lost Plate’s Xi’an food tour. While all of the stops were great, I especially loved the noodles! The liangpi cold noodles and spicy spinach noodles were my absolute favorite. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
PS- Heading to Shanghai? Lost Plate just opened up a new food tour in Shanghai and is offering a HUGE discount for the month of October!
3. Wandering Lijiang Old Town
I have to admit, in 2012 I couldn’t help but feel Lijiang was a bit overrated compared to Dali and Tiger Leaping Gorge, so when we headed to Lijiang for four days this September, I wished we’d given ourselves more time in Dali instead.
However, I was VERY pleasantly surprised by my trip to Lijiang this time around. I think half of it is growing up (and actually having money to spend at all of the cute boutique shops) and the other half is that Lijiang has definitely improved over the years.
In the last five years, Lijiang has done a great job refurbishing its old-style buildings and adding higher-quality artisan shops. When you compare my photos from 2012, Lijiang doesn’t even look like the same city!
I loved wandering the cobblestone streets, sampling tea and rose cakes. Lijiang also has very affordable fine silver and jade, so I picked up a jade bangle, silver bracelet, and big silver-spun flower earrings.
4. Getting to the Top of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Last time I visited Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the actual mountain was closed due to snow. This time around, I was determined to make it to the top! Armed with rented red puffy coats (which we didn’t need) and oxygen canisters (which we DID need), the group of us took a cable car up the mountain to begin the steep climb to see a glacier.
While the weather was a cloudy mess when we first got off the cable car, by the time we made it to the top, the clouds cleared and everyone gasped with awe! It was absolutely beautiful, and I couldn’t contain my excitement, along with everyone else on the mountain.
The air is a bit thin up at 15,000 ft, and the oxygen canisters definitely made the hike to the top a bit easier. Not to mention, they were super fun to play with! Once we got to the top, I couldn’t help but feel really accomplished. Hiking up all those stairs is not that easy when you’re above the clouds!
5. Bargaining With Locals in Xizhou
While in Dali I took a car out to Xizhou, a slightly smaller town filled with local minority artisans. My family and I loved wandering through the small alleys, bargaining for “antiques”, souvenirs, traditional tie-dye, and jewelry.
I have to say, this is the first time I’ve ever been sold something by having someone literally grab me by the hair. Usually, I hate it when sellers touch me, but this woman did my hair with a traditional metal hair clip and it actually looked awesome!
However, later on, a different woman grabbed me by my bun and undid my awesome hairstyle in an effort to convince Chris that her hairclips were just as good. Needless to say, he ended up buying one as a gift.
Wow, these women are good at sales!
6. Successfully Convincing My Parents That China is Awesome
My parents have always been a bit worried about China. Pushing, shoving, crowds, pollution, internet censorship – why would anyone want to come here?
Well, I finally convinced my parents to come visit me in China and they had a great time! My parents absolutely loved Chinese food, wandering old towns, and bargaining for souvenirs. They kept saying that China was much better than they ever expected and that Chinese people were some of the nicest people they’d ever met.
I think having me along to guide them, pick out the food, and translate for them definitely helped. However, the hotel staff at every place we stayed (especially Grace at Ling Long Xiao Zhu Inn in Lijiang), really made the trip even more spectacular.
I’m SO glad my parents enjoyed China, and I hope I get to show them around other areas of China in the future.
Not everything this month was perfect. Here were a few downsides to the month of September.
1. My Boyfriend’s Foster Brother Passed Away
While we were traveling through Xi’an, Chris received word that his foster brother was extremely sick and in the hospital. His foster brother Ben had a plethora of medical issues, but his rapid decline in health was really unexpected.
While we were exploring the Terracotta Warriors, Chris learned from his parents that Ben might not make it, and that they’d be flying home from China two weeks ahead of schedule to see him before he passed away. Unfortunately Ben didn’t make it in time for them to get back home, and he passed away early the next morning.
While it was a really upsetting time for both Chris and the rest of his family, I’m happy to say that the funeral looked incredible. So many people showed up that they had to set up seating outside of the church. I only wish that I could’ve had the opportunity to meet him before he passed on.
2. Absolute, Pure, Exhaustion
On a lighter note, showing both sets of parents around China was absolutely exhausting. While it was great to explore China, see my parents, and meet Chris’ family, we couldn’t help but wish our parents weren’t visiting back to back.
I literally felt like death every time I woke up and didn’t begin to recover until I was able to grab a few 10 am sleep-in days in Lijiang.
Trying to keep up with our work while traveling and playing tour guide was also impossible. Thankfully I was able to set up an out of office message for my blog email, but Chris still needed to do all of his safari sales work. There were many nights where we only got five or so hours of sleep because we had to stay up late editing Instagram photos, drafting admissions essays, or answering emails.
4. That Time I Cussed a Guy Out in Chinese…
There’s a lot to see at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, including the glacier, Blue Moon Valley, and the Lijiang Impressions Show. The group of us hired a driver to bring us to and from the park, and pick up our combo tickets ahead of time.
However, the morning of the trip, our driver was OVER AN HOUR LATE. Because of this, we basically had to run up the steps to the glacier (thankfully we had our oxygen canisters), and we were a solid 30 minutes late to the show we had spent $30 USD each to see.
Needless to say, I was super stressed trying to get us to the show on time, and I was EXTREMELY angry at our driver. At one point I got in his face and started screaming at him in Chinese in front of Chris and my parents. Because we were so late, we missed some of my favorite parts of the show and had horrible seats. I’d been looking forward to the show for months and I was so upset and disappointed that I even started crying.
Thankfully the driver’s company refunded half our show ticket money, and our driver gave us tons of extra time at the Blue Moon Valley, which was stunning. He was also extremely nice to me after I blew up at him. I hate it, but yelling really gets things done in China.
5. Disappointment in Dali
When I visited Dali in 2012, it was one of my favorite parts of my Yunnan trip. I loved the hippie vibe, Tibetan-themed restaurants, and beautiful lake. Dali is definitely a crowd favorite, and many bloggers like Juno and Kristen are obsessed.
However, when I visited Dali this time around, I was really, really disappointed. Chinese tourists had taken over. The sleepy little hippie town I remembered from 2012 is gone. While Dali is still absolutely beautiful, I shook my head in disappointment at the McDonalds and MINISO blasting pop music, and I couldn’t get out of a funk for the entire first day. I’d talked up Dali so much to Chris and my parents, that I kept finding myself apologizing for what we were now seeing.
Later that day I dug up my old photos from 2012 and was shocked by how different things had become. While Dali is still incredibly beautiful, it’s become a Chinese tourist town.
6. Being a Tour Guide and Translator is a Lot of Pressure!
Firstly, I felt a lot of pressure at the beginning of the month showing Chris’ family around. Mainly because it was my first time meeting them, and I really wanted to impress his family!
Showing my parents around was a little less stressful, in that I didn’t feel the need to constantly impress them (they’ve already witnessed all my teenage tantrums), however, I still felt really responsible for their experience in China. I wanted everything to be perfect for them, and because of that, it was hard to be as easygoing as I normally am when I travel.
Finally, being a translator every day for a solid three weeks is exhausting. Who knew I’d need to learn vocabulary words like bronze, silver, and brass. Chris was even joking that I should just go ahead and learn the whole periodic table in Chinese!
Not to mention the fact that many of the people I was chatting with in Yunnan were not completely fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Most of the women in Xizhou couldn’t read or write Chinese characters and didn’t know the names in Mandarin for half of the things they were selling.
Let’s just say my Chinese really improved on this trip!
Those of you who’ve been reading This Beijing Life might realize that this is a brand-new segment! Now that I’m working for myself, I want to be a bit more transparent about how I’m affording to travel and live abroad. In this segment, I’ll be filling you in on my major struggles and successes on the path to location independence.
This month I had barely any time to actually work, which meant I wasn’t able to make any of the blog improvements I’ve been hoping to make this fall. However, I did have a few massive affiliate payouts from MyTEFL and Express VPN that really helped me out this month!
While I’m still a little disappointed with how much I’m making per month (I really hoped I’d be hitting the $1,000 mark consistently by now), I know that things will start taking off now that I have the time to fully commit to this site and my related projects!
I think it’s important to mention that when I quit my job as a college counselor last month, I had paid off all of my student loans and managed to save $16,000 USD. I wouldn’t have taken the leap to work for myself if I didn’t have a little nest egg to keep me going.
Here’s My Monthly Income Breakdown!*
- Sponsored Content – $0
- Freelance Writing – $110
- Affiliate Sales – $487.84
- Teaching Referrals – $0
- Consulting – $0
Total Revenue – $597.84
Total Profit (Minus Blog Expenses) – $509
*I’ll be using cash accounting for this section, which means I’m only counting the money that actually comes in or out of my bank account each month.
Anything else you’re curious to see in this section? Any more information you hope I’d include? Would you like me to write a full post discussing this? Let me know in the comments!
My Most Popular Post
My most popular post this month was definitely After FIVE Years in China, I’m Finally Moving On, where I explained why I’m leaving my job in China, and what I’m doing next!
My most popular IG post of the month comes from the Lakeside Great Wall. Not pictured: the weird theme park waterslide ruining this beautiful spot. Why, China? Why?!
Many people know about the part of the Great Wall that ends in the ocean, but did you know about the part that dips into a lake? The Lakeside Great Wall is only 1.5 hours from Beijing! It would be perfect if they didn’t have an ugly pipe that connects to a waterside RIGHT NEXT TO the most beautiful section…. China.
This second photo was also taken on the Lakeside Great Wall, which really surprised me in a good way. While the park was a bit crowded, the wall itself was almost empty!
Book of the Month
This month I finished reading Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro who literally just won the Nobel Prize in Literature right after I finished reading.
I started reading this book because I was looking for more dystopian speculative fiction after finishing the Oryx and Crake Series. Literally, everyone seemed to be recommending this novel, and it even has a move adaption starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley.
Without giving anything away, this book follows Kathy H and her friendship with Ruth and Tommy over the years, starting at a fancy boarding school in England. While the first third of the book was frustratingly mundane (do I have to read about Kathy’s boring childhood life forever?!), there were enough bizarre hints to keep me interested.
Do these kids not have parents? Why are they so “special”? What’s with this weird emphasis on creativity and health? What’s with the second-hand items they collect? Aren’t these kids supposed to be rich?!
Eventually, the book fills you in on the dark futures these students face. However, the way the annoyingly bland main character Kathy talks about her horrific life like it’s no big deal in her “memoir” is by far the creepiest thing about this novel. Trust me, this book will get you thinking.
Best Reads of August
Here are my favorite blog posts from the month of September!
The Emotional Labor of Female Travel Bloggers – Adventurous Kate
Wow, I loved this post! To be honest, aside from noticing that most top travel bloggers speaking at conferences are men, while most travel bloggers are actually women, I never really thought about how the day-to-day work I’m doing might be different from your average male travel blogger. I’ll definitely be remembering her comments about the importance of my own time when it comes to the millions of emails I get a day…
How Chengdu Became Our Favorite City in China – Drink Tea Travel
I really love it when people write positive things about China. Chengdu is awesome, and I absolutely love the laid-back vibe, gardens, spicy food, and pandas! I hope this article inspires you to get off China’s beaten path and explore the country outside of Beijing and Shanghai!
After Five Years of Blogging: What I’ve Learned – Be My Travel Muse
I love reading these types of posts from bloggers, but this one from Kristin stood out. It made me realize that maybe I should hire a few more people to help me out with my site, even though I’m not making much money. I spend WAY too much time on my emails (time I could be using to actually grow my business), and I could definitely start listening to some more podcasts while I’m doing my daily chores. I also love how she brings up how many bloggers are faking it, especially on Instagram. Ugh whyyyyyy!
What’s Next for October 2017?
This October will be my last full month living in Beijing! Of course, I’ll spend a decent bit of time exploring all of the places I love. I’ll also be hiking a few sections of the Great Wall to prepare myself for hiking the Kumano Kodo in Japan this November!
Finally, October will be a time to put my head down and work. I’ll be busy hiking for two weeks in November, and I’ll be traveling around Japan in the beginning of December, so these next six weeks are precious work days. Now I just have to overcome the challenge of learning how to work from home!
10 comments on “The Freedom Life: September 2017”
Yay! So excited for your new adventure. I’m also happy there’s a Monthly Finances section too. Helps to see how others are crunching their numbers.
Thanks so much! I totally agree. While I generally know “how to make money blogging”, actually seeing the EXACT numbers with an explanation is really helpful, especially when people have just started taking their blogs full-time. I also added the other bit about my savings and financial situation so people would know how I was surviving in Beijing on $500 a month hahaha
For what it’s worth, at some point I went from making almost nothing to doing alright, and then really well from my blog. It’s like the universe was asking me, “how much do you really want this?” all the way up until what felt like the 11th hour. I did a lot of freelancing for a while, then things finally worked out. Good job on making the affiliates work for you!
Congrats on speaking 中文 well enough to curse someone out as well. How did I not know about this mountain when I was in Yunnan?!
That’s great to hear Kristin! Usually, you only hear about people’s successes working for themselves, not the struggle and hard work that got them there. As for the mountain, I only knew about it because I went there with my study abroad group in 2012. I had NO IDEA about the Blue Moon Valley though. It seems like the whole place is really popular with Chinese tourists but not foreigners. I only met one other foreigner while I was there, and she was with a Chinese friend!
Very interesting to learn all the details. Just curious as to how you handle visas if you are living abroad and don’t have a traditional job that might sponsor you? What do you do for health care?
Great question! I got my work to agree to not cancel my residence permit on me while I was still working for them part-time. After that I’ll just be traveling and working for myself on tourist visas, which is fine as long as I don’t make any money in the country. As for health insurance, I’m going to be using World Nomads, which is really great for travelers!
Wow what a massive round up! Sounds like there were some high highs, and some low lows – sorry to hear about Chris’s brother. It sounds like you had a wonderful time with your parents though, and I totally empathize with how exhausted you were after translating for weeks on end.
Thanks so much Flo. Despite what happened to Chris’ brother, it really was a great (but also super exhausting!) month. :)
Excellent write up Richelle and you hit it out of the park as a travel guide- we loved the trip! One of our best trips ever and owe it all to YOU!
PS: Hike up to $1 USD ladder on the Great Wall was 1hr 20minutes uphill in jungle like terrain!! It took us 5 1/2hrs total- WOW…?
I’m so glad you liked the trip!! Was it really 1.5 hours up? I thought it was only 45 minutes?! Chris and I are going to attempt it again next weekend now that we know what to expect. Hopefully we don’t die! hahaha