My son chose to teach English overseas and moved to Qingdao, China in early 2008. My second trip in 2009 was planned around his birthday, September 9th and my own on September 14th. I used the same on-line travel agency, www.chinahighlights.com, who had successfully planned my first visit. They knew I was a single female, spoke no Chinese, traveled alone, and would want to tour parts of China. I was very flexible. Only two dates and places were non-negotiable. I had to be in Qingdao on my son’s birthday and the Panda Bear Reserve Center in Chengdu on my birthday.
Before landing in Shanghai, all passengers had to complete and sign a lengthy health form. Specifics were on flu-like symptoms. I felt perfectly fine the whole time I was in Shanghai.
When I arrived in Qingdao, my son was accompanied by a miserable head cold. His Chinese girlfriend, Daisy, was also a new, wonderful addition to meet. She had purchased the Chinese OTC (over-the-counter) cold pills Sam was taking. I took his head cold with me to Chengdu.
I felt lousy! Absolutely I was NOT going to be the planned panda bear caretaker for a day. It was too great of a risk. I might pass onto the panda bears, what my son passed onto me. I agreed that I could see the pandas, but no hands on care.
Having checked I had no fever, my guide in Chengdu called Daisy. He got the OTC product name and off we went to a pharmacy. I also wanted a nasal spray, something like Afrin, to help me breathe. I got something, but the clerk and my guide were confused; they never heard of using a nasal spray for congestion. So Happy Birthday to me! China Highlights surprised me with a birthday cake. Somehow I managed a half day, taking as many pictures as possible of the endangered panda bears.
The next morning I felt like I should be dead. Went to brush my teeth, saw my tongue was totally black and thought “Yup, I’m going to die.” The hotel staff took me to hospital #1 across the street (what we would call a walk-in clinic). They looked at my tongue and sent me to hospital #2. It was a cab ride away, but a hospital by US standards with English speaking physicians. They knew right away the black tongue was from the nasal spray. That spray was putrid; I had only used it twice. I was given two other Chinese medications and released. I had classic flu symptoms, except no fever.
Generally, I stay at 3 star hotels in China, fairly equivalent to 4 stars in the US. In Chengdu, www.chinahighlights.com, felt more comfortable booking me at a 4 star, they knew me well, I was “Sam’s mother.” I stayed at the Tianfu Sunshine Hotel where I met Ms. Sara, young, caring, and kind.
Sara was a waitress in the hotel restaurant. Her English was fair, her sensitivity astounding. I was having lunch, reading a book. It was a Chinese novel, she had an interest in the book too. We chatted, Sara sensed something was wrong. She learned I had just left my only son the day before. Physically, I sure didn’t look so great either. There was a wedding taking place in the hotel, she led me through the back entrance. I watched the wedding with other hotel employees, while Sara explained different parts of the ceremony. Later that evening, she called my room to see how I was feeling.
Another day while sitting outside, Sara came by. We chatted again, she gave me her cell phone number just in case. The morning I decided “Yup, I’m going to die”, I threw on some clothes and went down to the restaurant. I found Sara, showed her my tongue. She stopped serving, found the hotel manager, who took over from there. When I eventually returned later, a warm bowl of congee was in my room. The rest of the day was sleeping and packing, I had a flight to catch the next morning back to the US.
That evening, back in bed, Sara quietly came to my room. She sat gently on the side of my bed. Carefully she peeled, cut, and hand-fed me apples. That was the last time I saw Sara. When I checked out the next morning, it was her day off.
Twice I have traveled alone in China. I’ve seen The Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors, and a whole lot more. By traveling alone, I have had one-on-one experiences with Chinese people. There were others, with different, meaningful memories. This time I want the whole wide world to know. In Chengdu, China there is one, special, young Chinese waitress with a tender heart, known only to me as Ms. Sara. If you see her, you have met an angel on earth.