Tips for Optimizing Your China Adventure
Visiting a country much unlike your own is always full of new experiences. If you prepare well, those experiences are new and exciting. Here are a few things that will help you avoid the less exciting and more uncomfortable type of new experiences.
Carry toilet paper.
Yes, this is first on the list for a reason. It is inevitable that at some point in your trip, you will be caught somewhere needing toilet paper with none in sight, as most bathrooms do not have toilet paper. It’s easy to buy in any corner shop or drug store, and will save you from a sticky situation.
Can’t find the clothes you want? Have them made.
While there is an abundance of clothing markets and shops in the bigger cities, finding quality clothing with the right fit can be like finding a needle in a very large haystack. However, it is absurdly cheap to go to a tailor and have clothing tailor-made. This is a great way to get a quality suit for a fraction of what you may spend back home.
Try markets like The Fabric Market in Shanghai for high-quality attire, or clothing markets like Yaxiu Clothing Market.
Politeness is relative.
It is quite common to be stared or pointed at as a foreigner visiting China. Generally this is not viewed as rude behavior. In fact, depending on where in China you are, you may be the first laowai (foreigner) people have seen before, so naturally they will be extremely curious.
Be adventurous when ordering food.
Sometimes small, hole-in-the-wall establishments have the best food. While they often will not have picture menus, use the above tip to your advantage and don’t be afraid to point at a dish on another table, or even point to one of the options in Chinese on the menu.
Not sure where to look? Find out how to eat like a local. When dishes cost around $3 USD, what is there to lose?
Print vital information in Chinese.
It’s a good idea to have the name and address of your hotel or hostel printed in Chinese, as taxi drivers and most people on the street do not speak English (business cards are usually available on the reception desk). This is also helpful in case your group gets split up – no one wants to get lost in a place where they cannot speak the language, or even read most signs.
Alternatively, if you're traveling with a smartphone you can download a taxi guide app to with maps and addresses in Chinese to show cab drivers.
Throw self-consciousness to the wind.
Go ahead and be bold while you’re exploring. Not sure if a pathway is open to the public? Go for it. Especially in the hutongs, many of the small side routes are worth exploring, and are seen as public areas by locals. It pays to be adventurous when immersed in an unfamiliar culture.
Alert your bank before arriving in China.
Though most international travelers are familiar with this, it is well worth mentioning, because nothing will get your account suspended faster than making a withdrawal from the other side of the world. It is also important to remember that most places do not accept credit cards, adding to the burden of being stuck in China without access to your bank account.
See China Currency for more tips.
Don’t overbook your itinerary.
There are a lot of major attractions to see in China, but make sure to leave free time for unexpected stops. It is likely you’ll stumble upon a cool area or attraction that was not on your list, and sometimes these small detours are the most fun to explore.
Another reason to build extra time into your plan is that everything seems to take longer than expected in China. Whether because of heavy traffic or unexpected closings or a number of other possible complications, be ready to be patient.
I updated this article on October 10, 2013
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