This is my second big trip traveling alone, and I was only marginally less terrified at the outset then I was when I left for Peru in 2009. There are all the ordinary concerns of travel– theft, scam artists, water quality, and what to pack, but as a solo woman the always-present threat of sexual violence dwarfs all of that.
On the flip side, there are few better ways to assert your independence than to complete a successful solo journey. I still remember how proud I was when I safely returned from Peru and the worst thing that happened was I lost my toothbrush.
As an experienced traveler I know how unnecessary it is to plan everything in advance, but I always take extra care choosing my first night’s lodging. For this trip it meant spending a little extra to stay in an AirBnb. My hosts were Noel & Jonathan, a couple hailing from California who had moved to Beijing five years ago and never got around to leaving. Coincidentally, we actually had a Facebook friend in common.
Noel & Jonathan live in an apartment that is a hybrid of Western and Traditional styles. A traditional apartment would have an outdoor restroom, and the bedrooms would be connected by a courtyard. Their apartment has two stories and indoor toilets with only the guest room requiring a trip outside.
Indoor toilets are great in theory, but in China you can not flush toilet paper and the sewage system is subpar. They have been largely successful minimizing odor but they informed me that it was much worse when they first moved in. My hosts told me horror stories of apartment buildings where the plumbing directed odors straight up, and the higher your floor the more you suffered.
A typical Chinese apartment will have no decoration or color, with the exception perhaps of an image of Chairman Mao. Noel brightened up the apartment by hanging tapestries and art. I got to experience the surprise first hand when a Chinese friend of theirs saw their apartment for the first time and explained it was unlike anything he had seen before.
They also had wet bathrooms, which are common across Asia. This means the toilet, sink, shower, and often the washing machine, are all in the same room. It was a little strange at first but I got used to it pretty quickly.
The location of the apartment was ideal. They live in a residential lane (hutong) a short distance from the Lama Temple and the Temple of Confucius, as well as a charming street full of cafés and western or foreign style restaurants. The hutongs are your best chance at falling in love with the city as they are full of humanity and charm. They are treelined and have mostly single or double storied buildings. A strange juxtaposition with the massive development of the outer parts of the city.