My 30th Birthday in an Ancient Chinese Village (+ A Surprise ‘Rachel Meets China’ Art Gallery)

Last week I turned 30, and my 30th birthday was special in many ways.

It actually came in two parts. For the first part, I was traveling for work on my actual birthday. We were doing a cultural series on Jiangxi Province, and my team spent 5 days in Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China. Then we went to Huangling Village for 3 days, where I actually went just a month previously to see the yellow flowers blooming.

At first I was a little bummed to be traveling for work on my birthday, as I wanted to celebrate with friends and my boyfriend Nathan in Beijing. (I love traveling, don’t get me wrong! But work trips are still, well, work trips.) But actually, it turned out to be such a marvelous and magical day. Check out my vlog below!

I woke up to a view of Huangling Village, misty mountains, birds chirping, water flowing. It was so peaceful, tranquil, and breathtaking. I had some time to take a walk in the morning, grab a coffee (which you don’t often find in Chinese villages) and just reflect on the day and my 30 years.

I had a livestream to host in the afternoon, so I then did some prep work, showered, and put on my Hanfu dress I would wear.

The livestream would be walking around Huangling Village, introducing how the area has been revitalized in the last 10 years, and meeting some of the local craftsmen of the village. It was a really enjoyable livestream, and so fun to get dressed in Hanfu style!

In the evening, my team told me they had a surprise planned for me for dinner. They led me up to the top of the village to an old ancestral home built during the Ming Dynasty. So, this building was now hundreds of years old, and had been restored and protected. WOW.

They had laid out a Jiangxi dinner, complete with Longevity Noodles, which symbolize good luck and long life. It’s a tradition to eat these on your birthday every year! They even got me a cake that they found at a local coffee shop and sang happy birthday to me. I asked everyone to go around and say their favorite part of our work trip, as it was our last night together.

Every work trip I go on has a different feeling and experience. Most times, teams from different departments are brought together to complete their various media tasks. People will connect differently; everyone is very professional, but sometimes there is a fun or playful vibe with some teams, or a feeling of being a group. This Jiangxi team  of 9 people was really cohesive and sweet – we all really enjoyed meeting and traveling together on this trip.

I ended the day with a short walk to look over the village at night. It really hit me – I would never again be turning 30 again in a small Chinese village. What a unique and precious experience.

After returning to Beijing, I had dinner with Nathan with wine, cheese, and music. We started a music game where we played some of our favorite songs throughout our life, then tried to match the song vibe. Songs can hold such strong memories, and transport you to different parts of your life. We both love music, especially music from the 60s-80s, so it was fun to just sit and chat about our memories.


  • Hotel California
  • Power of love
  • Georgia on my mind ray charles
  • Dancing in the moonlight


  • Go your own way
  • Castle on the Hill
  • Amarillo by Morning

Then the big surprise came on Saturday night. Nathan planned the MOST incredible and thoughtful 30th birthday surprise – an art gallery of my travel photography!  I was so shocked to walk into Chill Bar and see 29 large printed canvases hanging up!!

It was a special and momentous night getting to celebrate 30 years around the sun with friends in Beijing, looking back on my travels in China since I started my travel blog Rachel Meets China in 2015.

Some people first complimented Nathan on the photos, “Wow you took some great photos of Rachel!” Until Nathan told them, “I only took one of these. The rest of them Rachel took by herself.” And people were amazed.

I started Rachel Meets China when I moved to China in 2015, and it’s been an incredible experience to document my life in China over the last 8 years through photos, videos, and writing on my website.

At first my blog was just a way to update my family and friends about my life in Hengyang, Hunan, China.

Then around 2018 I started solo traveling around China more, and learned more about photography, blogging, SEO. I found a wonderful online community, started building a personal brand, and learned that there was SO much more about China I didn’t know.

Then around 2018 I started solo traveling around China more.

I found a wonderful online community, and learned more about photography, blogging, and SEO.

It always surprises people that I take most of my photos by myself (with my trusty tripod!)

Here’s what that looks like:

I LOVE the experience of taking my own photos. There is so much fun and creativity in the process, setting up the shot, getting the framing and timing just right. There is also the challenge of how to do it by myself, and how to avoid getting other people in the shot (in China especially at crowded spots this is difficult!) I love the satisfaction in the end of finally getting that shot I’ve been after.

I’ve been thinking for awhile about how to collate and compile my photos and experiences into a book. It was so meaningful for Nathan to print these photos out to display. I never thought of putting them up in a gallery style setting – until now. So stay tuned – a book is something that might be in the works!

Now, lastly, some final thoughts about turning 30.

You look back on life, and sometimes you can’t believe how the years have passed, the things you’ve done, the places you’ve been. But I have no fear or worries about turning 30. I’m excited actually. I think every year gets better – you know yourself more, you feel more solid and grounded, and at the same time, more freedom in what you can choose to do.

My international circle of friends has been a key part of this. Most of my friends are already in their 30s or older, living vibrant and very varied lives. Some moved abroad when they were young, some when they were older. Some have kids, and some have chosen not to.  They’ve started new careers, new hobbies, new passions. Some are going back to school to pursue another degree, some have moved to new countries. They’ve set an extraordinary example for me; that life doesn’t have to be static. You can still be responsible and steady, and take care of yourself, but also live life loudly on your own path and pursue your goals. There isn’t a blueprint you have to follow. And it’s okay to not stick to the societal expectations laid out when we are young.

Through the years I’ve also been inspired by many other female travelers, and also by China storytellers.

China is such a vast and beautiful country and there’s so much to see here. And the more I learn and see about China, the less I feel I actually know. And it’s not easy being in the China sphere – it’s full of biases, political noise, stereotypes, confusion. But I still feel it’s worthwhile. Firstly because it’s where my life, my partner, my friends and communities are. But also, now more than ever it’s important to have people-to-people relations between China and the U.S.

One of my favorite quotes about China is from Anthony Bourdain:

“The one thing I know for sure about China is I will never know China. It’s too big, too old, too diverse, too deep. There’s simply not enough time. That’s for me the joy of China, facing a learning curve that impossibly steep.”

As I kick off my 30s in China, I’m looking forward to more adventures, growth, and the joy of an impossibly steep learning curve!


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