Know before you go. It’s an old adage, but one that you just can’t put to the side and ignore. Before you board the plane and embark on your wonderful adventure in China, take a peak at our tips that we’ve collected from travelers (and ourselves) over the years.
- This may seem obvious, but needs to be stated. You will not be in North America or Europe; you will be in China, and things will be very different. Expect to be flexible and have a lot of patience with a culture that may be vastly different from your own.
- The Chinese have a tremendous amount of respect for people of authority: teachers, administrators, and even seniors. Rules and regulations are strictly adhered to.
- Have patience with bureaucratic procedures. Some things take more time than you may be used to.
- In China, people express their family name first and their given name second. For example, if a person’s name is Xiao Song, then the family name is “Xiao” and the first name is “Song”. Do not be confused if some people flip your name around and refer to you by your family name.
- Master the art of chopsticks before you leave. This will help assimilate you into Chinese culture, and will earn the respect of many locals. There are a few websites you can find to learn how to use them, but the best way is to go to a Chinese restaurant with a friend who can teach you. Of course, you can always cheat and wedge a small piece of paper (or the chopstick wrapper) in between the two chopsticks, with an elastic band snapped around the end. Just bring your own elastic band.
- Driving in China can be slightly hazardous, especially in the larger cities. This is mostly because the streets were built for bicycles, and are too narrow for the large population to squeeze through. It is best to take a taxi, and avoid traveling between the rush hours of 7-8am and 5-6pm.
- Carrying cash is actually a good idea, especially for souvenir markets. Lots of Chinese citizens carry an abundance of cash; just make sure you have a moneybelt. If you are relying on ATM machines, check your daily withdrawal limit, and ensure you can withdraw cash in China. Cash advances from credit cards work quite well, although may not be practical if you have a high interest rate.
- The most important thing to note is that China is on 220V AC. Any device that you are going to bring (laptop, mobile phone charger, camera charger, hairdryer) needs to be able to take a 200V charge. Make sure you purchase an actual adapter, and not simply a device that helps change the prong structure.
- 56K modem is available almost everywhere, and some hotels have broadband. It is quite easy to get on the internet; you can purchase prepaid user cards that have passwords, or you can quite cheaply go to an internet café.
- Mobile phones are also readily available in China; it may be easier to purchase one there than it would be to bring your own. Prepaid plans are abundant, but if you are partial to your phone, check with your manufacturer that your phone is compatible with China’s GSM network. Blackberrys work well in China, so long as you have signed up for an international plan before you leave and make sure the phone is “unlocked”.
- Students wanting to bring laptops need to consider the amount of traveling they are doing. If your program involves quite a few journeys, you may want to consider leaving your laptop at home. Again, internet cafes are quite affordable.
- Small appliances like hairdryers are probably best left behind in order to allow for luggage space. You can buy a hairdryer at a local market dirt cheap.
Food and Water
- The best part about visiting a foreign country is the wonderful delicacies you get to sample. Make sure you try the top 3: onion pancakes (in Beijing), beef noodles (in Hangzhou), and the famous dumplings – just make sure you ask for soy sauce if your taste buds desire it.
- Generally the tap water in China is quite hard, so it is best to drink bottled water, or water from hotels that has been boiled and cooled.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, seafood, or fruit unless you have washed, cleaned and prepared it yourself.
- Western eateries are available in the major cities. Vegetarians may have some trouble, as the concept of being a vegetarian is not common in Chinese culture. Exert patience if your food is returned to you with simply the meat plucked out, and be aware that most soups, broths and sauces are meat-based, regardless of what you may be told.
- Bring toilet paper. It is not provided in washrooms, and the only alternative is napkins, although some restaurants will actually charge you for napkins.
- Be prepared to have a trip of a lifetime, but remember that you are joining a culture that considers the entire group. Western lifestyle often precludes us from considering others, and we often think only of ourselves. The Chinese are thoughtful and respectful, often masking discontent or injured feelings. Honor is highly valued, and if you believe you have been wronged, consider your actions carefully. The wrong word can penetrate deeply, even if is not shown on appearance.
- Bring a journal to record all of your thoughts as you journey to the other side of the world and embrace a culture that is steeped in centuries of history and tradition, and is blazing a trail to light the future.