Over one billion people call China home. Four of the top ten cities in the world are in China: Chongqing (30m), Shanghai (24m), Beijing and Guangzhou. Possessing some of the world’s oldest continuous history, tasty foods, interesting sites and diverse cities, China has emerged as a very popular destination. Last year, almost 150 million people travelled to China including myself.
Here is what I have learnt about China:
- You have to get a visa. Make sure you allow time and money to do it. Ensure you have all of your paperwork in order before applying for the visa. You must have documented information about your flight or train in and out. You must have your itinerary and accommodation booked in advance.
- Have travel insurance and check out your insurance company’s support for China. You do not want to navigate the Chiese hospital system by yourself
- If you like to post to Facebook, search via google, access Gmail and easily use WhatsApp, get a VPN on your devices, before arriving in China. The Chinese government blocks access to many of the internet sites we are used to. A VPN will allow you to maintain contact with the outside world
- In shops, markets and street stall, the dominant payment method is Alipay, the local phone-based system. Cash follows. Even when signs say “we accept Visa/Mastercard“, expect your card to be refused. Also, have more than one card. We went through three cards before one was accepted on at least two occasions
- You do not have to speak Mandarin. We managed to get around with a couple of words, our phones and fingers. Some people spoke English which was helpful but a lot of the time, much hilarity ensued as we rode taxis, bought food and rode public transport with miming and smiling. Learn at least “hello” (neehow), thank you (sze sze). It is appreciated. For lavatory, most people understand “WC”.
- Walk off the beaten track. We were floored, how often we would walk around a corner and find ourselves in a square, look out point, mall or street with few people in it whilst metres away thousands of people were crammed into a small space
- Allow yourself to enjoy amazing food. Look out for places the locals frequent. It gets depressing seeing foreigners only eating at western-style restaurants or chains
- Learn how to use chopsticks. In many restaurants in China, you may not have an option to use western style implements
- Say no to plastic bags and join me in carrying my own spoon, chopsticks and carry bags to reduce wastage
- Trust the unbelievably amazing public transport. China has built more railways and subways in the last decade than any other country
- Download Didi Chuxing on your phone. It is the Uber of China and we found it to have some superior features to Uber. The instant translation of text messages between driver and passengers were an impressive feature
- Be prepared for the pollution. It is eyewatering,
- Do not be shocked by squat toilets
- Carry toilet tissues and moist toilettes
- Get used to people staring at you, watching what you are wearing and doing. When you try to catch their eye, they will look away and pretend they have never seen you. Glance away and their eyes will be back on you
- Chinese culture is very different and some things can be confronting to other people. Expect this. Do not use your culture’s norms as the epitome of “correct” behaviours.
- Say goodbye to what many cultures determine as courtesies. Personal space does not exist. Pushing and shoving are the order of the day in China. You will have to join in to survive. In queues, do not leave a gap between you and the person in front or hesitate
- Get used to people shouting. The Chinse speak at a far higher volume than many cultures expect.
- Many Chinese men have a habit of loudly coughing up phlegm and spitting it out in toilets, in the streets and public buildings. The first few times it can be a shock
- Public Burping is also common and at times, unrestrained. It is considered by many to be a sign of appreciation at meal times.
- Smoking is very common in China, and while Beijing has just had a smoking ban imposed, many people smoke indoors throughout the country,
- Be alert to scams. If something is too good to be true or someone is too friendly and too generous, walk away
- Offer compliments not criticisms of China when asked by locals