As a country undergoing the grandest developmental makeover in recent history, China is becoming an increasingly popular destination for ESL teachers and backpackers alike. Traveling to China for the first time can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be if you come prepared with a few travel tips.
1. Don’t project American standards onto China
A problem about living in China is that Americans and other westerners who live here have no qualms complaining about it. A developing country yearning to compete with the U.S. on a global superpower level, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is admittedly an easy target for criticism if you hold it to the same living standards as your home country—assuming you’re from a developed country. Don’t be that person who always starts a sentence with, “If we were in America, …”
2. Carry toilet paper everywhere
Imagine you’re walking down the street when nature calls. Public restrooms in China don’t have toilet paper, so unless you carry a wad of it in your back pocket for such emergencies, you’re gonna be wiping with your underpants. Also, public toilets lack the convenience and comfort of porcelain seats. If you haven’t used a squat toilet before, check out this guide to using the Asian squat pot.
3. Don’t be afraid of the government
The government, police and communism have no effect on my daily life—apart from erecting that minor inconvenience, the Great Firewall of China. I was a littler nervous about rampant censorship and overeager police officers before I came here, but it’s hardly a fierce political or social environment. Unlike in America, the police in China are scarce. Historically, neither the Chinese government nor the U.S. government has a spotless record, but today, America resembles an aggressive police state more than its far eastern counterpart.
4. Don’t think you have the right-of-way
I’ve almost been hit by a car in China a dozen times. Even if the crosswalk light is green, it’s not your right-of-way. Cars and other vehicles come first. To make matters more dangerous for pedestrians, most people in China drive like 16-year-old American girls, and nobody uses their mirrors. Cars change lanes sporadically, and drivers sometimes straddle the line between lanes, just because.
5. Don’t be afraid to try the street food
One of the best reasons to travel to a foreign country is to experience its cuisine. Don’t travel all the way to China just to eat McDonald’s every day; try the street food! It’s everywhere, it’s delicious, and the best part, it’s cheap as dirt. If you are seeking intercultural immersion, there’s no better way to get a feel for a culture than by eating its authentic, traditional street foods.
6. Never reject a gift from a Chinese person
This is true in many instances. If a Chinese person offers you a drink, it’s very rude not to accept. When a Chinese person gives you their business card, take it with both hands and look it over briefly before you pocket it. When you receive a wrapped gift, you aren’t expected to open it immediately. The only exception to this rule is if you’re in Beijing and a stranger offers you tea. Just say NO.
Also, if you give a Chinese person a gift, don’t give them a watch or a pair of shoes. It signifies that your relationship is coming to an end.
7. Don’t expect people to understand English
China isn’t a tourist-centric country yet, and while the demand for English proficiency is rising steadily, don’t expect any Chinese people over the age of 30 to speak English. Your best bet for English communication is to speak with high school and college-age students. Oh, and many of the Chinese who CAN speak English will find you first. They’re often very eager to practice their ESL and become your friend.
8. Don’t drink the tap water
It might have poopy particles floating in it, so always boil water from the sink before consumption. Once, I unwittingly drank two tall glasses of tap water here in China. Sharp stomach pains and violent diarrhea barraged me for three days following that dumb mistake.
9. Don’t wear green hats
This one is a little odd, but it holds true. Wearing a green hat is a cultural faux pas in China, and if you wear one in public, people might think you’re an idiot. The Chinese phrase for “wearing a green hat” (dài lǜ mào zǐ) sounds very similar to the Chinese word for cuckold. Because of this, wearing a green hat symbolizes that you have an unfaithful partner.
10. Get a VPN
Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google are blocked, so if you want access to your favorite social media and websites, you’ll need to download a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Don’t settle for a free VPN service or it’ll take five minutes just to load your own Facebook profile page. Instead, sign up with a premium VPN provider like VyperVPN. It’ll cost you a few extra bucks per month, but it’s absolutely worth it.