• Barbara Murphy-Shannon

China Day 3-Smoking, Loud Music and a Knife.

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

I woke up at 10 am with a hangover. “What the hell is wrong with me?” I’m pretty mad at myself.

Susanne and the boys left for Hong Kong today. Randy and I are going to Wuzhou then on to Yangzhou. To get to Yangzhou we first take a boat up the Xi River to Wuzhou which will take about 20 hours overnight then a bus to Yangzhou, another 7 hours. Sounds like a blast when you are feeling like shit.

Before heading to the boat Randy wanted to go shopping at the Friendship Store to pick up some supplies. The stores sell Western, imported items, such as peanut butter and Hershey bars. Prices are considerably higher than what you would pay in the USA but, because the stores operated as a monopoly for imported items, buyers (we) have no other choice. The Friendship Stores accepts only foreign exchange certificates (FEC) as currency (so ripping us off even more…Friendship Store…it should be called Fuck You Over Store).

Some Items for sale included uncensored copies of newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times so they always have guards in front of the store to prevent anyone of Chinese appearance from entering. No Chinese Allowed!

There were always crowds of people looking in the door and windows trying to see what is for sale. On the streets by these shops, there are big signs with cartoons with the message or propaganda telling the people that they, too, could own a television set and even a refrigerator if they worked harder and saved. Heinous! I love the Chinese people but not the people running it.

While waiting for Randy I started thinking about Bob and wondering what he’s been thinking about? Me? I hope I get a letter from John when I get to Bangkok and wonder what he was doing in Australia? I had so much fun with him and his family over Christmas. It was nice not to be sad. I’m glad I’m meeting all these different guys. It’s giving me a chance to figure out what I really like in a man and what I don’t. I don’t want to make another mistake and end up with some asshole again.

I’m starting to get very nervous. Randy has not returned from the store and I’m worried we might miss the boat. He irritates me sometimes.

“Randy we are going to miss the boat,” I said with irritation in my voice.

Randy rolls his eyes at me as we are running to the dock.

We made it but I’m still irritated.

As we approached the dock I could see our boat, a big steamer ship. There were small sampans with sails slowly going upstream in the wide muddy river.

The accommodations ranged from second class, which is a bed in a small cabin for two, with a fluorescent bulb overhead and hot water in thermos flasks, down to fifth class where you get a bunk for $2 and came with 23 roommates.

The boat had no first-class, not sure but maybe because it’s inappropriate for a Communist society or my other guess because none of the quarters could be considered "deluxe." The airy top deck was reserved for the crew and the paying passengers were housed in the gloomier quarters below.

The second-class cabins were filled mostly with elderly cadres, or party and Government workers. They wore drab gray garments, of the kind preferred under Mao, and the women wore their hair severely short.

We were led down below to fifth class. There are rows of beds from one end to the other on each side with a walkway in the middle. They are bunk beds with a bottom bunk and a top bunk. Each bed space was no more than 2 feet wide and 5 feet in length. There were 4” high boards in between each bed. That was it. You had to fit yourself and all your luggage in that space. I can get claustrophobic so we grabbed the top bunks. Randy’s legs hung off the end into the walkway when he tried to lay down. I fit but it felt like a coffin.

They put all the “foreigners” together on the boat. On my right was a couple from Alaska who is traveling around the world for two years. Next to Randy, on my left was another couple who have been working in Taiwan for 2 years teaching English. There were three Germans across from us and one Brit man down from us. Everyone else on the boat was Chinese.

Some lay on their narrow bunks reading or sleeping. Others grouped together playing cards or gobbled rice with chopsticks from enameled bowls. One man washed his white shirt and hung it out in the passageway where it flapped wetly.

The crowd seemed livelier down below (no it was not like the scene from The Titanic with dancing and drinking) more families and laughing. One can move from second class down to lower classes, but not the other way around. (This was like a scene from The Titanic, I’m just glad they didn’t lock us in).

I was settling in and enjoying the boat. It was nice being on the water and I was excited to see more of China when I smelt smoke. Then the cabin started filling up. It was getting harder and harder to see. Puffs and puffs of grey smoke everywhere. I started to get concerned.

“Where is all the smoke coming from?” I cried.

“Everyone and I mean everyone in here is smoking,” said Randy.

I looked around and he was right, everyone except for the kids were smoking cigarettes, one after another. It was awful.

Then without warning music started playing so loud coming out of the speakers on the wall it was deafening. What the Hell? I was trying to figure out why they had it up so loud. Was it to keep us distracted or occupied? I wasn’t sure but it was annoying. I looked around and none of the Chinese people seem bothered. They seemed to enjoy it so maybe it was a distraction for them. I get it.

Of course, Randy fell asleep and was snoring but I couldn’t hear him over the loud music.

The bed was like a rock and it was so cramped. I propped my big backpack up against the wall and used it as a pillow. I slept in all my clothes since we didn’t get blankets and it was February and pretty cold. All the people in one small room made it pretty stuffy. It was cold but refreshing when someone opens the door to the outside. More people are sleeping now and not smoking…thank god. I also thought I should protect myself from all the strangers but felt pretty confident no one would try anything with so many witnesses but just in case I tighten my money belt around my waist and pulled out my Swiss Army knife to have ready if needed. It’s not a big knife but if anyone tried anything it would hurt. I didn’t fall asleep until they finally shut off the music around midnight.

“Come on, we need to go,” my sister said.

“Where” I replied.

“He’s coming!” she screamed

“He’s coming!”

She grabbed my hand and we started running down the road.

I was trying to make sense of what she was saying and who “he” was when I woke up and realized I was not home but on a boat in China. It took me a few minutes to be fully awake and I remembered…

Sometimes the best thing to do is to run.


After my divorce, I felt so alone and depressed. It took everything not to cry 24 hours a day. I was so young and had failed. I hated going out to dinner or other places when I was home. I might bump into someone I knew or knew him. I’d get the same sad look of “I’m so sorry about your failed life.” Especially from other women.

After about a month I started to get “the questions and advice.”

“When are you going to go on a date?”

“Don’t you like men?”

“You can’t judge all men based on one asshole.”

I didn’t hate men but I also wasn’t ready to start dating.

I needed to get out of there before I went crazy.

So, I ran.

I ran as far as I could go.

I ran where no one knew me, my life, or him.

When I meet someone new and they ask, “what made you decide to go around the world backpacking?” Rather than tell them my pathetic sad story of marrying an abusive man when I was 19 years old and divorce at 23. I’d say.

I’m on a journey to find myself.

BUT…Every time I arrive in a new city…I’m told.

“You just missed her!”

"Maybe she’ll be in Yangzhou..."


If you have been following along then you know this is an excerpt from the book I’m writing based on my trip around the world backpacking when I was 24-years old. I began this story when I was in China but that is not where the real story began as you will soon figure out.

The experiences and benefits of traveling abroad are countless and last a lifetime. To say that I loved traveling is a massive understatement. Traveling will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I can truly say that I would not be the person that I am today if it weren’t for the lessons that I learned along the way. Traveling is an opportunity like no other, and I wish everyone could experience the magic, the people, and the freedom it provides. I plan to share an excerpt now and again and would love to hear back from you. How did it make you feel? Do you have a similar story? What has been your experience traveling abroad or anywhere?

Barbara Murphy-Shannon, Psy.M. is a Mindset Breakthrough Business Coach for Entrepreneurs and Leaders. Sign up for my weekly blog or reach out at Barbara@barbaramurphyshannon.com