Thursday, July 25 2024 - 11:10 AM
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Lost in China

China, at last! I was anxious to stretch my legs and move my feet after the 24-hour flight from America. But my sense of adventure was stifled by the quiet countryside village where I would stay for five months. There wasn’t much to the village but farm fields, dirt roads, some small Chinese houses, and how could I ignore the stench lingering from the stagnant creek outside my door?

About a week after I arrived, my ears perked up when my roommate told me there was a nearby market. She gave me simple directions to the market: Walk down our road and turn right. I planned to walk to the market that evening and told my roommate I would be back before dark. Getting lost was the last thing on my mind.

After 30 minutes of walking, the bustling market greeted me. Children laughed as they chased each other down the road, the dust rising from beneath their pitter-pattering feet. Women walked under umbrellas shielding them from the sun. Men sat on small chairs, hunching over tables on the sidewalk, their cigarette smoke swirling above their Mahjiang game. Aromas of beef sticks, corn on the cob and fried bread filtered from Vendors’ grills and frying pans as they called out for people to buy. Varieties of fruit lined the road, and shoes for sale sat in dust that blunted their shine. Children rode on the back of their parents’ bikes, staring at me as they rolled by, their curious, dirty faces full of wonder. I wanted to speak to them, but all I could do was smile as they stared, my blonde hair, fair skin, and T-shirt-and-shorts attire shouting my foreignness.

I decided to head back home before sunset, so I turned left onto the road that led to my apartment. As I walked, the villagers’ smiling faces filled my thoughts. The Chinese people seem so content and happy living their poor, simple lives. What Americans would consider poverty is their way of life. I loved breathing this new culture and fresh, country air. Then, for the first time since I had turned onto this road, I looked up.

No Apartment Building

Fields of corn and rice stretched as far as I could see, but where was my apartment building? It should be just up the road. I looked to the left—fields. To the right— fields. Ahead—no tall apartment building. Behind—the market was gone. I knew I had turned onto my road, or had I? Maybe my building was so far in the distance I couldn’t see it. I opened my eyes wider, but the scenery didn’t change. I must be on the wrong road, I thought, yet I had no clue where the right road was. Where did I go wrong? Had I turned off too soon? Had I walked too far?

I had no phone with me, no flashlight—only keys in my pocket, and what purpose would they serve if I never reached my apartment? Night was crowding around me, blinding my vision to see my building in case it might appear. My feet moved faster as if they’d make my building appear, but the faster I walked, the faster dusk fell. Helpless, desperate, I slowed down and prayed. God, help me find it. I’m lost! I don’t care how you get me there; just get me there. I believed He would answer my prayer.

Help Arrives

A couple minutes later a Chinese man on a dirt bike rode up from behind me saying something. I couldn’t understand his words but guessed he was asking if I was lost or needed help. When he patted the back seat of his motor bike, I knew he was offering me a ride. Could I trust this stranger? I wasn’t sure, so I told him one of the few Chinese words I knew, “Bu” (No), and kept walking, but he kept following, still asking questions in Chinese.

“Bu, bu” I kept saying, walking faster, but he kept riding alongside me. His persistence told me that maybe I was trying to walk away from the help the Lord sent—the answer to my prayer. I turned to this man, looked directly into his eyes and prayed: Lord, is this the help you’ve sent? The man’s twinkling eyes peered back into mine, telling me he sincerely wanted to help. I hopped on the back of his bike, grabbed onto his leather coat and prayed, Lord, get us there, and protect me.

Many Roads

We zoomed and winded around dirt roads, highways, well-lit roads, dark, mysterious roads, busy roads and empty roads, but not along any road was my apartment building. The night grew thick, and all I had to hold onto was this man’s leather jacket and my hope that God would answer my prayers. Then the man stopped at a large, cement building.

“Zhe ge? (This one?),” he asked.


He kept driving. I held my breath.

Finally, in the distance was a tall tower that looked like my residence. I wondered if the tears welling in my eyes and my desperate hope were causing an illusion. I didn’t want to be so hopeful, or I might be disappointed. As we approached the area, the building came into view.

“Zhe ge? (This one?),” he asked. I rubbed my eyes and looked closer.

“Dui, dui (yes, yes)!”

I felt I could breathe again, but all I could tell him was “Xie-xie (Thank you)”—words that sounded shallow after what he had done for me. I wanted to express my joy and gratefulness—feelings even my native language was powerless to describe.

Chinese Angel

For the first time, I closely observed this man. He was short and clean-cut with bright, sharp eyes, and now he wore a smile. I knew it was customary in China to invite someone in and offer them food if they had done you such a favor, so I invited him up. My roommate opened the door to the stranger and long, lost me. Worry shone in her eyes, and her jaw dropped at the surprise before her.

“Where…who…,” she uttered. I couldn’t blame her speechlessness.

“This man helped me!” I exclaimed. “I got lost …”

“I was worried…”

“And he brought me back.”

She stared at the man as we walked inside, and I went to the kitchen to get some fruit. Turning to the man, I patted the sofa, asking him to sit down. Smiling, he sat down, and I offered him the fruit. He kindly refused it and left shortly.

After he left, I told my roommate the whole story. We both let it sink in. Then her eyes widened and gazed into mine. “Maybe,” she suggested with awe, “…he was an angel!”

“Maybe so,” I agreed.

As we sat in silent wonder, I remembered my prayer: God, help me find it. I’m lost! I don’t care how you get me there; just get me there. Smiling, I delighted in God’s creativity, trusting He would be all I would need in China—perhaps with the help of an angel.

If you enjoyed this, you may like, Lost in the Woods | What to Do if You Get Lost

Vanessa Pham writes from Texas.

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About Vanessa Pham

Vanessa Pham

is a wordsmith and author from the Southeastern U.S.

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