China is a very special country, it’s amazing and it’s culture and beauty know no bounds.
However visiting China can be a terrific culture shock in many more ways than you anticipate for, and thats why I’ve compiled a list of 5 things you need to know.
Travelling to China has been so amazing and I’d recommend it to everyone, but knowing these things will save you a lot of headaches and problems. So lets begin.
1. Cross the road like your life depends on it; because it most definitely does.
China seems to have very different rules for the road, or just have very relaxed policing efforts because running a red light seems to be as serious as swallowing your gum.
Not a great analogy, I have no idea what effect swallowing your gum has; but I do know that assuming you have right of way on a pedestrian crossing might kill you.
I have spent my whole trip dodging cars and bikes while crossing during my green light time to cross the road, not just because some cars seem to ignore the light, but because all bikers do. All.
So electric scooters, mopeds and bikes are a huge thing in cities in China, theres thousands of them. But they seem not to be governed by the lights because a red light means nothing to any of them.
So in summation, be very careful crossing the road and expect to be honked at even if your doing the right thing, most just want to let you know they are coming at you anyway, regardless of who’s turn it is. Some want you to continue on your path, so their honking to say “don’t slow down or change course” because they are gonna weave past you, it’s scary at first but you get use to it.
2. Very few people speak English, particularly the ones you think should.
I had heard that because China is striving to become more English savvy for business and trade, that this means that navigating China (particularly its cities) have been made easy in recent years. I these people I laugh.
China’s general population study English for school or interest, but very few are confident enough to use it, and those that do will use only a few words. However if they are older, there is no trying involved.
Which leads me to my chosen professional who I think should speak English in every country, the taxi drivers.
Let me be clear, taxi drivers do not speak English in China at all. When you arrive make sure you have the hotel written in Chinese characters on a piece of paper (print it, never trust your own writing).
Second, have directions to the hotel printed under it just in case. Not one taxi I’ve jumped in so far has had GPS, so if they don’t know the way, they have kicked me out. Print directions.
Next thing, learn some survival Mandarin. Even if its just thank you (there is no please) or something like ‘this’ and ‘that’, it’s gonna go a long way. Your going to want to be able to point to a menu item and say ‘this’. I strongly recommend this video.
Practice, get good at the pronunciation, and you’ll go much better. Even McDonald’s staff don’t speak English, I me come ooooon right?
3. Be prepared to spend with cash much more than with your card.
What I’ve done is I opened up a Bank of China account in my home country before coming to China, you can open them in every major country and don’t have to be remotely Chinese. This has been very handy because China has ‘UnionPay’ rather than Visa or MasterCard, and though the others work, UnionPay is China’s preferred way to pay.
However! A big reason I have this account is so that I can withdraw sizeable amounts of cash and pay very little for it. The places your going to want to shop at is the little markets, vendor carts, places where they’re selling beautiful hand made authentic stuff you can’t find anywhere else. These places take cash baby.
Also the best food ever comes from cash only shops and stalls, there is still so much traditional market still thriving even in the big city, that your going to miss out without cash.
4. Internet is sloooooow and nothing is available.
As a communist nation the internet is highly regulated and controlled, and funnily enough this goes hand in hand with sluggish and frustrating. For such a large and well populated country its internet should lead the world, but it is awful because of these constraints.
I warn you of this so that you don’t blow up at your hotel for their dodgy service, also unless you’ve prepared a VPN or proxy service you can forget Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and 1600 other websites you’ve come to live off.
Before you go crawling through google signing up for all the free proxies, I’m just gonna metaphorically shut your laptop lid for you now. Once your computer is under China’s control, that proxy is going down. The only ones that work are the ones you pay for, this is because China lets them work, this is because China takes a cut.
It’s not proven or anything, but it’s believed that the only ones that ‘slip by the Chinese Government’ are ones the Government in-fact know about and profit from, and (some believe) are using to access data and information about you from.
This may not be true, but it is a fact that proxies are unsafe so be very careful with what you use on them.
I recommend a VPN, they are cheaper in my experience and work far better and are very safe. Get that going and you should be fine.
5. Get a Visa! Even if your visiting!
One of the biggest shocks I had was realising (almost too late!) and completely by accident was stumbling onto a blog post (like this one) and learning that no matter how short the trip was, or for what purpose, China requires a Visa.
It’s not a very difficult process and just requires you to fill out a form online, print it, bring it to a consulate and $100 and a week later your set. But the worst thing that could ever happen is you turning up to the airport pumped to leave, and being stopped at the check in counter.
I was so curious about this after I checked in that I asked the girl how often she has to deny entrance to peoples very expensive and non refundable flights for this oversight. She said that while it doesn’t happen constantly, it happens often enough to worry about it.
She said she its one of the worst parts of her job but if she opens your passport and finds no visa, she has to turn you away and you lose a fortune.
If your mouth is hanging open and you haven’t done it, get off my site and go sort it out right now haha. It’s a biggie.
Some of you are thinking ‘well derr they need a visa, who would assume otherwise?’ I think whats throwing people is that Hong Kong doesn’t require a visa and that a lot of people consider Hong Kong to be China. Also surrounding countries like Japan don’t (at least for us anyway) so people are assuming China is the same.
Anyway so that brings us to the end of my list, I feel really glad to get that off my chest, I think everyone is sufficiently warned of my findings.
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Have a safe one, and message with anything you’d still like to know. 🙂 Catch ya’ll soon.