Originally written by: ShiDiWen
Edited/Uploaded by: brennnnz
"So, You’re Coming To China..."
First off, welcome to China! Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the basics of what you need to know upon your arrival in the Middle Kingdom.
1) What’s up with the internet?
A: Many sites, notably Facebook, Blogspot, Twitter, Youtube and Imageshack are blocked by the Great Firewall. Reddit is fine, so are most other reader submitted content sites.
Google, Gmail and MSN experience unexplained rolling blackouts from time to time. You can view these sites with a proper VPN.
2) Do I need to speak Chinese?
A: If you are traveling to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Hong Kong you should be fine with English. Not everybody speaks it, but many places that cater to visitors speak a little vocational English. Expect cafes and fast food chains to know the items on their menus. If you are traveling in Tier 2 or 3 cities you will likely need a guide. Check with your local hostel or hotel concierge and they should hook you up.
3) Do I have anything to fear? I’ve heard a lot of stories.
A: No, you should be fine. In most of our experiences China is a safe place where trouble does not actively seek out those who are not seeking it themselves.
The Gov’t also leaves anyone alone that doesn’t bother with them. As Napoleon may or may not have once been quoted (or misquoted) as saying, “Don’t wake the sleeping Dragon.”
Hate crimes targeting foreigners are not unheard of, but are still very rare and would likely be in retaliation to a perceived wrong committed by the west, such as the bombing of an embassy or shooting down of a plane. Such things have happened in the past decade. In the instance that there is an international “misunderstanding” your embassy will inform you. But for this to happen you first need to register with your embassy! You can't be warned if you can’t be found.
4) So, I’m going ____________ (insert city name); what do I need to see/avoid? I can only speak for myself and other members can add their own experiences.
A: Beijing: See: Great Wall (inquire about “the secret wall), The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Fragrant Hill. Avoid: the “golden streets” (xidan and wangfujing), unless of course you came all the way to China to buy foreign luxury goods. Eat: Beijing Duck, but eat local. The expensive places like DaDong will give you basically what you’d get at a smaller restaurant but at 20x the price. Avoid eating: Western fast food. It is everywhere, and all too convenient. Most restaurants here have picture menus to help you order, so don’t be afraid.
5) What is the best way to travel within the country?
A: Train. But this is not a simple answer. The train is cheap, fast and safe, but as someone who has used it dozens of times I offer these tips:
- Buy the tickets at the station. Trains leave often and frequently. Independent ticket sellers lie through their teeth and rip you off.
- Travel “hard sleeper”. There are four classes of tickets. Standing, sitting, and hard and soft sleepers. Soft sleepers are obviously the best, but unless you like traveling in the company of elderly people it’s best to go with the hard sleepers. They are not actually hard, they are 2-3 inch thick foam bunks.
- Travel through the night. The best train rides are the ones that leave late at night and arrive in the morning. Sleep the whole way there. The train schedule is 24 hours here. Don’t waste your prime hours in transit.
- Watch out for thieves and pickpockets. Keep your belongings on the front half you, and close to your head while you sleep.
- Hang out by the front of your gate when waiting. You’ll see a luggage trolley arrive. This person charges 5-10 RMB for you to follow him onto the train. This way you board early, with no pushing in crowds. None of the thousands of migrant workers will pay this early boarding fee. You are settled in your bunk while the masses are pushing and shoving their way in.
- Or, pay for the VIP waiting lounge. This will do the same thing. It’s not expensive at all. Don’t let the VIP tag fool you.
- Bring snacks. The food served on board will be no more than instant noodles and individually wrapped cold hot dogs.
- Travel light.
6) Any essentials I should bring?
A: Hand Sanitizer; Voltage adapter for small electronics. And if you use a traditional camera, film.
7) I want to study in China. What are the good schools?
A: This can be added to but from what I know the best (famous) schools are BeiDa (Beijing University), Tsinghua U, RenDa (the People’s University) or JiaoDa (Jiao Tong University in either Shanghai or Xi’an).
8) I’m going to work for _______ (insert school name). Is it a good/bad choice?
A: A good school in a big city should be paying you at least 9000 RMB a month to start, subsidizing your rent and providing visa services. Yes, there are teaching jobs well over 20 000 RMB a month, but you won’t find one of those from overseas job ads. You get those once you’ve been here for a year or more. Talk to other teachers from that school. If they won’t allow this exchange then something is fishy.
9) Is buying small electronics cheaper in China?
A: yes and no. You can buy many Chinese brands you’ve never heard of before on the cheap. You can also buy knockoffs aplenty. If you are coming to buy an iProduct you will be disappointed. Yes, they are made here, but there is a luxury tax on them. You are better off buying them back home.
10) How bad is the pollution?
A: Well, I wouldn’t drink the water, but I have always brushed my teeth straight from the tap. A face mask is handy on super smoggy days, but often not needed. From June to August it’s good to have sunscreen, an umbrella or parasol, and a fan (buy that here for 10 RMB).
11) Are the locals friendly?
A: Yes. Most of the cold war conditioning has worn off. Has yours? ☺ You’ll find, especially outside major centers that people are genuinely interested in you. Expect to be stared at; no harm is meant. Having a drink with a local will more often than not result in good times being had by all.
12) I’ve heard you have to bargain for many things? How do I go about this?
A: This is when having a guide comes in handy. Many foreigners love going to the big markets to get some deals. My general rule of thumb is ask 1/4 of their original asking price.
13) Will my bank card/credit card work?
A: Yes. If you have doubts, go with a major bank.
14) Can I Skype/ make international calls?
A: Yes. I suggest you pick up a local SIM at the airport while you are here.
15) Is it true they eat dog?
A: Only in the north. You can find it in bigger cities, but likely not anywhere a tourist would go.
16) What happens if I get sick?
A: Go to the hospital. It is privately run, but cheaper than you’d expect. It’s not the best in terms of what you are used to. Insist on Western medicine if speed of recovery means anything to you. TCM is fine, but the results are slow. The best advice is to travel with insurance.
17) I’ve got X type of visa, but want it converted to Y type of visa. Is this possible?
A: Once upon a time before the Olympics this was the norm. Business people, students and teachers would all come with tourist visas because they are easy to get, and change them over once they get here. They’ve been cracking down on this lately, but many institutions (especially schools) will tell you it is fine. If you are at all worried about this, then just come with the proper visa. It’s best you deal with this at home with people you can communicate in your own language with than being stuck in China relying on the help of people out to exploit your desperation.
18) Are there any things that a taboo that I should know about?
A: Like every culture there are many innocent things that may upset or insult local people.
- The number 4 has the same pronunciation as death.
- Clocks and watches should not be given.
- Gifts should be opened in the giver’s presence.
- If you have an opinion on Taiwan, Tibet or Xinjiang it’s best to keep it to yourself.
- Cards and envelopes should be received with both hands.
- Do not step over a child, or allow a child to crawl between your legs.
- Avoid pats on the back, shoulders and head. It’s condescending.
- The only time I ever almost got beat up was one time at a club. I was wasted and said to my friend, “I fucking love China.” Later on I found myself surrounded by hooligans saying “We heard you say ‘Fuck China’”. Since then, I’ve avoided using commonly understood words, especially if I’m bitching (I’m not immune to bad days).
19) What is the best time of year to travel?
A: The climate is comparable to North America. The south is warm, the north is cold.
Avoid traveling during the weeks of May 1st and Oct 1st. These are national holidays and the entire country is off work. Crowds are insane and travel is unpleasant. The same can be said for Spring Festival in all of February, but the spectacle of it all could be well worth it.
20) Websites I should check out?
- Hunan and Sichuan food rocks.
- Baijiu can be fun, but be careful; it’s over-proof.
- KTV is great, especially in large groups.
- Eat outdoor BBQ. No matter where you are. Eat this.
- Never use travel groups/bus tours. It will ruin your entire holiday.
- Within big cities, use the subway. Taxis are fine, but traffic is slow.
- Say hello to people’s babies, and speak English to the shy children hiding behind their folk’s legs. I’ve yet to meet a parent that doesn’t love that shit.
- Represent your fellow foreigners well. There are only two kinds of people in the world here. “From here” and “not from here”. Every idiotic thing you do reflects on all of us.
- Smile, be polite. Be Patient. Things can be frustrating at times. Take it in stride.
- Have fun!