Food for Thought: China

I went to Mainland China in September! I visited Beijing, Harbin, Anshan, Shenyang, Panjin, and Xi’an. I was also in Datong and Shenzhen briefly for a stopover and transfer, respectively.

China - 09.2014

Here are some pics! :D

wangfujing beijing
tai yang dao harbin
beiling park
xi'an stele forest museum
szx


I wanted to share some thoughts about my China trip, so you know what to expect and pack if you are going to China anytime soon. This list is written for a typical American tourist (as that is what I am), but it may be useful for other travelers going to China!

Language

  • Putonghua (Mandarin) is China’s official language. Few locals will be able to speak English. Thus, it’s always good to have at least one person in your party that is fluent in Putonghua. I was with three others; two of them are fluent in both Putonghua and Cantonese.

Currency

  • Exchange your currency to renminbi before traveling. Renminbi is the name of the currency, while yuan refers to the unit. Check with your local bank to see which banks you have access to in China. Bank of America customers can access China Construction Bank using their debit card with a flat rate fee.

Transportation

  • Subway is cheap. It was about 10 yuan (~1.63 USD) for 2 people to a stop 15min away from our hotel. Just make sure you have renminbi on hand. Check the city’s subway system (if there is one) to map out your route, and check the fare price on one of the machines so you have exact change when buying at the booth. There’s also an x-ray at every subway entrance for bag check, but it’s very quick. Subway trains are also often crowded. There’s a high chance that the next train will be jam packed; just push yourself onto the train and hope nobody next to you will stink.
  • Taxi is also cheap and almost everywhere at a major street. Just hope that you’re not trying to get a taxi when the drivers are changing their shifts.

Mobility

  • Make sure you can squat! China has squat toilets. Hotels will have sit-down toilets, but squat toilets are everywhere outside of your hotel.
  • Make sure you can walk stairs! China has many stairs, with few escalators and elevators.
  • And most important of all…make sure you can walk! China doesn’t have any laws requiring accessibility for individuals with disabilities, unlike the US. Oh, and drivers don’t stop for pedestrians, so you need to be alert and move quick if on foot.

Health & Sanitary

  • Have a stack of toilet/tissue paper on hand. Tissue paper and napkins are usually not provided at the toilets and restaurants.
  • If you need water, get bottled water. Don’t ask for cold water or ice in restaurants. Ask for hot water if needed. Hotels will almost always provide complimentary bottled water. Local stores will also carry bottled water.
  • Bring hand sanitizer. Just in case, for after each public bathroom use. Sinks may not have soap.
  • Please put on deodorant. Don’t be that person that stinks up the subway/taxi/plane/etc!
  • If smog congestion will bother you, bring masks. I was fortunate to have been in China when the smog wasn’t that bad. It is particularly worse in the winter, as China also burns coal as their source of heat.

Must-Pack Essentials

  • Carry-ons are highly recommended. Suitcases bigger than carry-on may increase your travel time. You want to be able to move quickly on foot. I had a Timbuk2 Aviator and messenger bag and was able to get in and out of taxis, airports, trains fairly quick.
  • A light waterproof jacket/windbreaker, and/or umbrella. There may be a slight chance of rain.
  • Comfortable walking shoes. China has many stairs, with few escalators and elevators. I was walking 15-22k steps a day!
  • I highly recommend Mopiko, a Japanese anti-itch cream for mosquito bites. It works so much better than Cortizone-10. They can be found at most Asian supermarkets in the US. If stopping by HK (or anywhere else in Asia), grab one there as it’s 1/3 of the US price.
  • A pack of gum for plane rides. Chew gum when you feel pressure building up in your ears to ease discomfort, especially when you’ve landed.
  • Adapter kits. A typical Chinese outlet will have the American/Japanese non-grounded socket on the top, with the Chinese/Australian or British/HK socket on the bottom. Some hotels may have a multi socket. I’ve also found that my Chinese adapters were old; the sockets now require the ground prong for insertion.

Technology Stuff

  • WhatsApp, WeChat, and GroupMe are the few messaging apps I’ve found that work in China. Line, KakaoTalk, Hangouts, and Facebook do not work to its full extent. If traveling with a group, make sure all smartphone users are using the same app prior to the trip. Even better- get a chat room set up beforehand!
  • Almost all hotels, both American and Chinese, have WiFi. There were a few hotels where WiFi was spotty, but the room usually had an ethernet cable, so bring a portable router if you can. Just remember to set it up beforehand.
  • Update your iPhone or Android and its apps. Both services (App Store and Google Play) will most likely not work in China.
  • You might want to look into getting a Chinese SIM card for an unlocked phone, unless you are using international data plan. Airports have WiFi, but it can only be accessed after obtaining a code via text. (Shenzhen excluded.)

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