In April 2015, a group of 22 peers and I packed our bags for a 2 week visit throughout Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai.
Travelling through China was an unforgettable experience in so many ways and one I would do again in a heartbeat. However, I wished I knew a little bit more about this country, its people and its customs so I could be better prepared for the journey, but I suppose hindsight is often a wonderful commodity.
So, if you’re travelling to China, here are 7 basic things to remember that will make your day-to-day interactions with the locals so much easier.
1. Download a Language Translator App
Although a lot of Chinese speak fluent English, others speak broken ones and many do not speak the language at all.
It can be a source of great frustration to not be able to communicate in a foreign land, especially when asking for directions for example.
The best solution in this predicament is to use a downloaded language translator to communicate onto your mobile phone. In the translator, you type in English what you want to say, translate it to the person’s language and it appears on your screen.
Show that to the person you are communicating with and, in turn, they can write back to you on your phone, which translates from their language to English.
The best app I found for this is Google Translate, available for download on all Apple and Android devices. It hosts 100 different languages to choose from.
2. Download an Air Quality Index App
Pollution in most parts of China is unbearable, especially in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
I was fortunate not to experience that at times, the pollution is so bad that you’re not able to see clear blue skies for days.
To keep your health in check, I highly recommend keeping abreast of the pollution level and air quality of the city you are visiting.
Air quality is categorised in different levels such as good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous. This is monitored via an app such as Air Quality China.
3. Pack a Face Mask
I purchased my face mask from a friend in Australia before I left for China so that I was prepared.
The face mask acts as an air filter for the unhealthy air you’re breathing in and will keep your lungs protected.
I used my mask once in Beijing when we were travelling in a rickshaw. I definently noticed a big difference in the air quality before and after use.
4. Bathroom Shenanigans
Hotel bathrooms and most restaurant lavatories are similar to our Western sitting style. However, outside of the tourist strip such as train stations, markets and around town, the toilets are the squatting type.
Besides the squatting part, you’re not permitted to flush paper down the loo. There is a bin provided in the cubicle that collects all your used toilet paper.
I know, it’s gross! But when in Rome… By the way, always travel with toilet paper in your bag as you may need it in places that don’t provide them.
5. Spitting In Public Is The Norm
There are many practises around the world that we aren’t accustomed to here in Australia.
One of them is seeing and hearing people spit so loudly out in public.
What’s worse is the hawking; the whole collecting your nose mucus thing and spreading it out on the floor! It happens quite frequently too and yes, it’s also gross.
Spitting occurs so openly in public areas since locals view mucus as toxin; eliminating it as much as possible is classified as ‘healthy’.
As a foreigner in another country, you just have to accept and respect that this is considered the norm.
With a population of almost 1.4 billion people, you are likely to be in close proximity with others wherever you go in China.
Coming from a large continent that has only 22 million people, with about a 2 person gap between everyone, it is rather difficult to have your space crowded.
The best trick is to mentally prepare yourself before you arrive into China.
I envisioned myself being completely cool, calm and collected when I felt it was too crowded for me. I found this mental preparation helped me cope very well in the over-crowded spaces of China.
When you meet a local Chinese person, don’t bow – that’s done in Japan.
And don’t do the lotus hand-prayer gesture – that’s done in India.
It’s not necessary to hug and air-kiss a local on the cheek.
Simply, shake the hand offered to you and address him/her properly by their name and title.
A genuine smile and politeness in any culture goes a long way.
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart,” Confucius.
China is truly a fascinating country with its customs and traditions; the people are friendly and the cuisine is delicious.