When you first touch down in China your brain will do one of two things. It’ll go ‘ooohhh, shiny, noisy, crazy!’, or it’ll go ‘arrrrgggh, shiny, noisy, crazy!’ Either way, it’ll be something of a shock. While you’re finding your feet, you’ll probably feel foreign, lost and a tad overwhelmed. So, to help you in those first few mental weeks, here’s i-to-i’s survival guide to China:
1) Toilet Roll
OK, let’s start with the little things that make a big difference. Chinese toilets in almost all public places (including bars and restaurants) do not stock toilet roll, everyone carries their own. Note to overzealous packers, China, as a nation, stocks toilet roll, this is not something you need to find room for in your suitcase. Oh, and rest assured that you will find western toilets if you’re squeamish.
The wheels of Chinese bureaucracy move very slowly, except for when plans are being changed, at which point they seem to move very quickly indeed. As such, just go with the flow, plans will change, you will get frustrated, but take a deep breath and remember that it will all get sorted in the end.
3) One Piece of Paper
With the name of your hotel or address written on it in Chinese characters (you can get someone at the hotel to copy it out for you). Keep it tucked in your wallet and you’ll always be safe in the knowledge that even after a night out on the pijiu*, you can always get a taxi back safe and sound.
4) A Thick Skin
No, you don’t have something stuck in your teeth, those people are staring at you because you’re an exotic rarity. Staring isn’t seen as rude like it is here in the West and it’s certainly not meant maliciously. So you just have to grow a bit of thick skin and let it wash over you and hey, you might even become something of a local celebrity.
5) Mad Chopstick Skills
Many restaurants won’t actually have forks in stock, so it’s worth having a quick practice with some chopsticks before jetting off to China. But don’t worry, if all else fails, all Chinese restaurants have rice spoons that you can use.
6) A Willingness to Haggle
Haggling isn’t an optional thing you only do in dodgy markets in China, barring supermarkets and restaurants, it’s done pretty much everywhere. So, get ruthless, the price will have been upped big-time to take the fact that you’re a foreigner into account. Because Chinese pronunciation is about as easy as doing complex quadratic equations with a hangover, you might want to learn the hand signals for numbers, or go shopping with a pad of paper to ease the haggling process.
You’ll experience things in China that feel a little wrong at first: total strangers coming up to you in the street to ask if they can practice their English with you, waiters presenting you with a still flapping fish that you’ll be eating in 15 minutes, a lack of ‘excuse me’s’, guys spitting in the street. You’re not going to change China, so just go with the flow and remember that it’ll make an awesome story for your grandkids.
So, what do you think? What have you got packed in your China survival kit?