If you are a Westerner traveling to China for the first time, there may be a few Chinese customs or ways of life that you may find peculiar. Of course, this is true with any unfamiliar culture so your best option is to learn as much as you can before traveling to your new destination.
Elizabeth Rabe and Kristen McAvoy, two American interns for china.org.cn, wrote their top 10 tips for westerners traveling to China after living in Beijing for 8 weeks. We hope this list helps you prepare for your China adventure and minimizes any unpleasant surprises.
Words to know
Tip 10: Words to know
a. Mai dan – Check
b. Cai dan – Menu
c. Xiexie – Thank you
d. Ni hao – Hello
e. Bing – Ice
f. Shui – Water
g. Bu yao – Don't want it.
h. Learning the numbers 1 through 10 will make your daily life much easier.
Watch out for umbrellas
Tip 9: Watch out for umbrellas
In contrast to the West's definition of beauty, the Chinese value fair skin. Hence, regardless of rain or sunshine, a typical Chinese female is equipped with an umbrella. With a population of approximately 17 million, however, these ornate accessories quickly become hazards to distracted eyes.
If you need a taste of the West, go to Sanlitun
Tip 8: If you need a taste of the West, go to Sanlitun
Sanlitun is an area in the Chaoyang District located north east of the Forbidden City between the 2nd and 3rd rings. Although very expensive by Beijing standards, Sanlitun offers a variation of restaurants, bars and nightclubs that foreigners frequent. Here you can find anything from a McDonald's to Turkish cuisine.
Beware of massages
Tip 7: Beware of massages
A traditional Chinese massage varies greatly from a traditional western massage, so do your research before you opt for the first place you see. Chinese massages emphasize healing, and the techniques used are often peculiar to a Western observer. There are a number of methods used, but many involve tools such as wooden hammers, suction cups and needles. If you are searching for a traditional Western massage, a Western hotel is probably your best option.
Be open but cautious when it comes to food
Tip 6: Be open but cautious when it comes to food
Unlike many Western countries, not all restaurants in China receive a sanitation score for cleanliness and food preparation. As a result, you must choose where you dine carefully. Street food is probably not a good idea, and it is also wise to bring some antibiotics, probiotics, and other stomach relief medicines. Even properly prepared food may not sit well with a Westerner's stomach.
Be patient to adjust and willing to try authentic Chinese cuisine. There are some amazing dishes; be sure to try Peking duck and hot pot, before you leave.
Tip 5:Pollution Protection
The pollution in Beijing is not only unsightly, but may affect your body in adverse ways.
Be sure to bring plenty of lotion and eye drops (especially for those who wear contacts) as the pollution tends to irritate and dry out your skin and eyes.
The U.S. embassy regularly posts a pollution report on its website. On days that are categorized as 'hazardous', it may be best to stay inside.
Tip 4: Taxi Trips
If you do not speak Mandarin you must print the address of your destination in Chinese characters. Do not assume that they will understand your broken Mandarin directions. The majority of cab drivers speak no English and Beijing is a big city so describing your destination can often be a challenge.
Some cab drivers attempt to bargain, especially late at night. If they do not turn on the meter get another cab. Be aware that 2 to 3 yuan will be added to the final meter amount for gas expenses.
Taxis are the most expensive way to get around in Beijing, so the subway is a great alternative for travelers on a tighter budget. The bus system, although inexpensive, is extremely complicated for non-mandarin speakers.
Watch where you step
Tip 7: Beware of massages
In contrast to popular belief, a lot of Chinese are proud canine owners. Unfortunately, grass is a rare commodity in Beijing so the sidewalks are where man's best friend does his business. Don't get too distracted or you will regret it for the rest of the day.
Also, be on the lookout for traffic as pedestrians in China do not have the right of way.
Always have toilet paper and hand sanitizer
Tip 2: Always have toilet paper and hand sanitizer
Most public toilets lack Western amenities in China. If toilet paper is available it will be on a role next to the entrance, so be sure to grab some before going into the stall. However, it is not uncommon for public toilets to lack toilet paper so it is a good idea to always have a pack with you.
In addition, there will definitely be no paper towels and often no soap, so hand sanitizer is your best bet for achieving clean hands.
Lastly, get those legs prepared for the squat toilets in China – they are everywhere.
Don't be afraid to bargain
Tip 1: Don't be afraid to bargain
No that purse does not really cost 1,000 yuan! When shopping at the various markets in Beijing do not be afraid to counter a high offer with a much lower price. Start your bid at around 10% to 20% of their first offer.
Having the exact amount you are willing to pay in hand is often a good tactic. If they do not accept, walk out. They will most likely call you back.
A good rule of thumb is to never pay more than half of their initial asking price.