The first country I ever visited was China, before the country hosted the Olympics and before pollution became a problem.
It was also my first time applying for a visa. It was relatively simple then because the Chinese consulate didn’t require a physical appearance. I gave my passport to a Travel Agency who Fedexed it back to me a week later. I didn’t have to submit a copy of my bank account or a Tax Return or payslips which were some of the requirements of some consulates. I merely filled up the application form and bank transferred the application fee.
Not many people spoke English back then. A lot of the communication involved pointing, hand gestures, and vocal acrobatics because I didn’t speak Mandarin or any of the other Chinese languages. There was this one instance when I stopped a policeman to ask for direction.
Police Officer (brows drawn, apparent confusion on his face, probably wondering what this weird girl was babbling about)
Me (slowly): Tia-nan-men?
Police Officer (stretched out his arm and pointed)
I walked the steep steps of the Badaling portion of the Great Wall, felt sorry for the black bears in captivity, marveled at the scale of the Forbidden Palace, nearly gagged at the urine smell of the Hutong (the narrow alleys of the traditional courtyard houses linking houses together), abandoned at the side of a highway by a fake taxi driver, saved by a real taxi driver who restored my faith in humanity, and danced on the tables at Afunti (no, nobody threw money at me. It wasn’t that kind of establishment).
I couldn’t find my photos since digital photos weren’t that affordable then, so I’m borrowing this photo from Bryan Dearsley’s post. Rights to the photo belong to him. I’ve visited most of the temples and parks he mentioned on his post and his photos are amazing. Do visit his blog, as well.
The experience was exhilarating and empowering. Yes, I got laughed at, stared at, and pointed at but that only made me realize how much I loved traveling.