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Lost in China Without a Map

“Here—you need this more than me,” is what preceded the bravest, kindest, and possibly stupidest thing I’ve done so far in my life. I was seated next to a young man, 22 or 23 —only two or three years older than I was— on my flight from Xi’an to Beijing. He seemed nervous and completely unsure of how he was going to handle the capitol city, and admitted he didn’t even pack a travel guide. And so, after a bumpy landing and a quick embark, we said our cordial farewells and I handed him my Lonely Planet Guide.

A few hours later I was lost, standing in the hot summer sun,  two miles away from my destination but at a complete loss of what direction to start walking in. You see, when I handed him my perfect travel guide, I had made two erroneous judgements: 1) this young man was somehow less capable than I was,  2) Beijing only a year before the Olympics would have lots of bi-lingual signs and directions just like Shanghai.  From the airport I counted how many stops it would before I got off the subway. Then I walked up from Hepingmen Station into the sweltering mid-afternoon sun and everything was going well.

For the first five seconds, anyway. No, I emerged from the subway to find dusty, broad avenues bare of signs and directions and only a few, small street signs written only in Chinese characters. And somewhere, in a two-mile radius of where I stood, would be a youth hostel “hidden in the older parts of the city.” While on the plan I quickly wrote down the street names—in English— that ran nearby the hostel. Cursing that I gave my guidebook away,  I quickly tried to figure my way out of this situation.  I went down below to the subway again, hoping the station would have a bi-lingual local map posted on the wall.  No such luck. So I back up to the surface. I felt chills creep down my spine despite the heavy backpack I wore and the 93 degree weather. Lost in Beijing. No hotel in sight to ask for directions in English, no government buildings or local policemen. Totally screwed. 100% lost. The only for-sure thing I knew is that in 3 days I would be back on a plane, flying out of here. Until then, I was one my own.

And in the midst of a fervent prayer and deep regret at not taking the parental advice of  it “being too far away to travel alone,” an aged man on a rickshaw came to my rescue. I normally avoid the hustle and hassle that comes with being a white American in China (aka, big money spender!) and walk and take public transit. But this old man walked up to me, and what was in his hand probably saved my life.

He held old pamphlets of sights and scenes long changed and re-marketed. But in that was exactly what I needed: the Far East Youth Hostel. What I relief! I didn’t have much money, but I’d gladly trade tomorrow’s lunch and dinner money for a ride to a place I’m completely at a loss to find. While siting in the rickshaw, I almost cried tears of joy. Saved. Rescued. And at the moment I needed.  I contribute this saving grace to the answered prayers of family and friends. There is a loving God, who cares even about silly, lost, 20-year olds in China.

Ten minutes later, I’ve been taken on a winding, long route behind Beijing city shanty villages and small markets, and up to the unassuming entrance of one of the grandest youth hostels I have ever been in. With much gratitude I pay the worn, local rickshaw bicyclist and give him as much extra money as I could spare.

Sanctuary.

And I would never have felt this sense of complete loss and hopelessness—and its resulting wave of gratitude—if I hadn’t done one of the bravest, kindest, and possibly stupidest things I’ve done in my life.

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