Monday, December 5, 2016

10 Tips for Travel to China

Traveling to China? Let me give you advice, from one big-nose to another (that’s what the Chinese call us westerners).

1. Pack cash. Crispy, unfolded, perfect cash. Normally the travel wisdom is to bring traveler’s checks or an ATM card. You can do that too, but in China, you’ll want to bring along at least enough cash to get yourself out of a crunch ($100 or $200). The Chinese do not like to exchange cash if it is folded, crumpled, or torn, so make sure the cash you bring is aesthetically pleasing.


2. Don’t stick your chopsticks straight up and down into your food. It may be a convenient place to stash them during dinner, but it looks like incense burning after someone has died, so it is very rude. By the way – if you are reading this thinking “No problem, I can’t use chopsticks anyway,” you might want to practice using some before you go. You won’t always find a fork.


3. Don’t worry about the water. Now, I didn’t say drink the water. I said don’t worry about it. The Chinese cannot drink the water without boiling it and neither should you. The good news is that no one will try to serve you unboiled water, and you will always have access to boiled water everywhere you go.


4. Plan to be stared at. You may be at the zoo to see the pandas, but the Chinese are at the zoo to see the Americans. Don’t be shocked if they ask to take a picture with you.


5. Bring along a Chinese takeout menu from America with some characters on it. If you wander into a restaurant without a translator, you can pull out your menu and point to your favorite dishes without worrying that the restaurant is serving you General Tso’s Dog.


6. China is strictly BYOTP – Bring Your Own Toilet Paper. Before you leave the hotel every morning, think about how long you will be out for, whether or not you will drink coffee, and whether you plan on going number ones or number twos. Then pack the appropriate amount of toilet paper.


7. Bargain. If you look like a westerner (or talk like one), then you look like a sucker. Whatever price the Chinese ask for, offer one fourth. This applies outdoors on the streets or sometimes in tourist shops, but not in department stores. You can ask if they can make it cheaper by saying “Keyi pianyi yi dian?” Or, when they tell you the price, you can simply retort, “Ni kai wan xiao!” (You are joking!).


8. Try some of the exotic foods. You never know when one of them might taste good. I wasn’t such a fan of kidneys or raw shrimp, but I quite enjoyed jellyfish and ram testicles. Who would have guessed?


9. Talk to the Chinese. Many speak English – they are required to learn it if they want to go to college – and they might approach you and strike up a conversation. Ask how they feel about hosting the 2008 Olympics, or tell them which Chinese historical site or traditional dish was your favorite.


10. In order to use the squat toilets, bring your pants to your knees, and squat, leaving your heels on the floor. Mastery of the skill takes practice, but there are enough Western style toilets in the country that the most ambitious tourists will never have to squat.


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