Travelling to China? Some Advice

In a few weeks my mother, my sister and my sister-in-law will be visiting me here in China. I was trying to email them all to give them a little info on what to expect when they land in Beijing and make their way across this great country. Well, hotmail is not cooperating, not in China, not this week. So I thought I could just post here on the blog, besides some of you out there thinking of visiting China might find it helpful.

The pictures from Malaysia, you ask? Still on the camera. Too lazy to download them… Maybe this weekend.

What to expect while visiting China?

First – get used to it right away, you are going to be stared at. Constantly. Well, maybe not constantly if you are in a city like Beijing or Shanghai. They are used to foreigners. Everywhere else, you will be the days’ entertainment. Random people will tell you hello, usually from a safe distance, and then roar with laughter if you reply, “hello.” This staring is not malicious, just curious. Eventually you will not even notice it. Remember, there is no such thing as privacy in China so feel free to pick your nose or whatever while people stare at you.

Speaking of privacy… it is also quite common to hawk a big nasty loogie and spit it on the ground, wherever you are. So get used to it. The government discourages this in Beijing, but that doesn’t stop the spitting. It’s been known to happen in restaurants. Also, the occasional emptying of the nose directly onto the ground is quite popular, especially among the elderly set.

Speaking of restaurants… If you are seated, having a meal, and a Chinese person yells out “Fuwuyuan” loudly, and the waitress comes scurrying over, don’t get indignant and think, “how rude.” That is just how you call the waitress over. Also, when you are ordering, the waitress will stand next to you with a pad and paper and she won’t go away until you order. None of that handing out menus and disappearing while you decide. The food will come out as soon as it is cooked, and will be placed in the middle of the table to eat. So if you order something as an appetizer, it will usually come out last. Eating is communal. Don’t be surprised if something that you think should be salty tastes sweet. And don’t order the cake. Oh, and we don’t tip here, either. Ever.

Sooner or later you’re gonna have to visit the loo. You can ask for the toilet or the WC in English, usually you will be understood. You may regret this decision, however. Chinese toilets are nasty. Not all of them, but most of them. Grand hotels and McDonalds generally have nice, acceptable toilets. Most of the toilets I’ve come across are squatters. You’re just gonna have to come to terms with that and accept the squatter. It really isn’t that bad. Don’t put toilet paper into a squatter. Don’t put toilet paper into most Chinese toilets. (Most likely there won’t be any paper there anyway.) Always, always, come prepared with your own paper. It is a really easy thing to buy here. They sale little tissue packets everywhere. Some of the most vile smells I have ever experienced in my life have been in Chinese bathrooms.

Awwww… the smells of China. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. During your stay in China you will experience weird smells. Sometimes it is just chemicals in the air. Sometimes it is fertilizer, the natural, animal produced kind. Sometimes it is the smell of an open-air market. Sometimes it is trash. Sometimes it is just plain funky and unidentifiable.

Try to speak Chinese, if you desire. Say Xie Xie for Thank You. Venture off into ordering dishes or asking for salt, whatever you like. Don’t expect anyone to understand you. They probably won’t. But they will compliment you on your excellent command of Xie Xie.

There is no dress code in China. The girls here favor anything with sequins. Wear whatever you want because it’s not like your very presence isn’t already screaming “TOURIST!”

You HAVE to bargain at markets. You HAVE to. Even if you don’t like bargaining. Just offer ’em 50% of whatever they tell you (or 20% or 30%, whatever you feel like paying.) Then walk away. Prices in the markets are marked up like a thousand percent. Chinese loooooooooovvvvveeeeeeee to say to the next Chinese guy “I got this foreigner to pay $5 for this $1 shirt. hahahhahahhahahahha” Bargaining is fun.

You will be amazed that everything is much more modern than you expected. You will see all kinds of new cars on the highways and streets, especially volkswagons and audis. Beware the cars. Be a very wary pedestrian. The cars don’t stop for pedestrians. There are cross-walks painted everywhere but no one obeys them, except for one time when I was at Tienanmen Square some cars stopped so I could walk by and I didn’t know what to do. I was flabbergasted. Traffic is crazy. Sometimes it is better just to close your eyes and pray your travel insurance is paid up.

Speaking of Tienanmen Square, pay no attention to the young kids trying to get you to go to an art gallery. They just want to take you to their cousin’s lousy art school show. And try to get you to fork over money for a paining of a Mongolian horse.

If you can see blue sky in Beijing, thank your lucky stars. If you have asthma, bring extra inhalers.

On a positive note, you will see some fascinating things, eat some great food, experience history and have a great time.

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