Things To Know When You Travel To China

Cultural Customs

Visiting China is an exciting and rewarding experience, with some of the oldest and most diverse cultures in the world. As such, it is important to be cognizant of the local customs that have evolved over time. Western travelers may find some Chinese customs and manners to be quite different from that of their home countries. For instance, in many countries, body contact between individuals of different genders is common, however this is generally discouraged in China. Additionally, pointing with the index finger is considered rude, as it is customary to gesture with the whole hand. Additionally, travelers should be mindful that in China, it is best to not discuss anything related to politics, religion, and other controversial topics.

Gift giving is a common tradition in Chinese culture, with the exchange of thoughts and feelings through gifts proving to be meaningful. Wrapping gifts is important in China, so if possible, finding out what color would be appropriate to wrap is advised. Also, exchanging souvenirs with acquaintances and close friends is common, which is why Chinese people often have various collections of souvenirs. Once a gift is received, the custom is to acknowledge it without opening it, before showing the gratitude.

Language Barriers

As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China is home to many different languages and dialects, such as Mandarin, Cantonese, and Tibetan, so speaking the same language is a challenge for many travelers. Although Mandarin is widely spoken in most cities, visitors should carry a phrase book or pocket dictionary so they can communicate with locals when necessary. Furthermore, in certain parts of the country, the written language may be different from the spoken language, so it is important to be prepared to understand both.

Furthermore, many Chinese characters are based on pictographs, which can often be difficult for those who are not familiar with them. Travelers who are interested in learning the language should look for online courses or language schools where they can sign up for lessons. Additionally, many restaurants and other tourist areas have bilingual menus so those who are not able to speak the language can make their order.

Transportation

When traveling to China, there are a variety of transportation options from which to choose. Train travel is a popular choice as it is cost effective, reliable, and allows travelers to relax while taking in the scenery. For those looking for a more modern option, flights are also available to Beijing, Shanghai, and other large cities. Visitors should also consider booking a tour bus to explore the various sites, providing a convenient way to get around without the worry of finding one’s way.

Should visitors choose to rent a car, they should do so through a well-respected company, as the roads and signs can often be confusing. Another efficient option is to hail a cab, although it is important to be mindful of the fact that many taxi drivers do not speak English, and may attempt to take longer routes to run up the fare. Safe ride-sharing services, such as Didi, offer tourists a convenient and secure way to get around, as they are available in most cities in China.

Communications

Since traditional phone services are not widely available in all parts of China, it is important to find a way to stay connected with the outside world. Mobile phone providers, such as China Mobile, Unicorn and China Telecom, offer tourist roaming packages, so visitors are able to use their mobile phones with different functionalities. Furthermore, there are many free WiFi hotspots located throughout the country, so travelers can easily connect to the internet to access social media, make calls, and more.

Additionally, most hotels and restaurants provide free WiFi for their guests, though some may require passwords or login credentials. Travelers should also be aware that using popular apps outside of China, such as Google and Facebook, can be blocked. To ensure access to these apps, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) should be obtained before arrival in China.

Festivals and Celebrations

China sees many cultural and religious events annually, from the Chinese New Year to Yanshui Firework Festivals. Travelers should check in advance if any festivals are happening during their stay, so they can plan accordingly. For example, the Lantern Festival is held on the 15th day of the first lunar month, which celebrates the end of Chinese New Year. This period is also known as the Spring Festival, and usually lasts for fifteen days.

In the northern region, the world-famous Terracotta Warriors should be visited, as the archeological site is offering free tickets during the holiday period. Musicals, dance performances, and fireworks display make every visit to China an unforgettable experience. For those holding valid passports, travel visas can be obtained easily, offering a great opportunity to experience the immense history and culture that resides in this country.

Food and Dining

China is well-known for its cuisine with a range of delicacies available in restaurants, street stalls, and more. While many popular dishes can be found in almost all restaurants, visitors should research the local specialty of the region they are visiting, as this is usually the dish of that area. Furthermore, sampling street food can be a fun way to explore and experience local culture. However, travelers should be aware of the risks and take precaution to ensure that food is prepared in hygienic environments.

In terms of dining etiquette, it is expected for all guests to wait until the oldest person has been served before beginning to eat. Since Chinese food is typically shared in a communal manner, chopsticks should be used when taking shares from a common plate. Also, it is considered impolite to make noise during meals, or to leave before the host or eldest has finished eating.

Shopping

Shopping in China is a true delight, offering visitors an assortment of items ranging from famous handicrafts, technology, and clothing. Markets are common throughout the country, offering an array of goods from local vendors. Bargaining is a common practice, and it should be noted that haggling for a lower price is generally encouraged, as long as it is done in a polite and friendly manner.

When purchasing goods, it is important to check if any additional taxes are applicable, as there are various taxes levied on imported items. To save time, online shopping has become increasingly popular in recent years, so travelers can take advantage of this and have goods shipped directly to their door. Chinese souvenirs, such as porcelain and silk, are popular options to bring home, so it is advised to search for deals and offers before making the purchase.

Safety and Security

When visiting China, it is important for travelers to be mindful of their personal safety. It is advised to always keep a copy of one’s passport and any other valuable documents in a secure place. Shopping in crowded areas, especially after dark, and carrying large amounts of cash should be avoided.

In the event of an emergency, travelers should contact their local consulate for assistance. Tourist centers in China have plenty of staff members who speak English, so visitors should feel free to reach out in order to clarify any doubts. Additionally, medical services are normally available in large cities, in case any medical assistance is required.

Health

When planning a trip to China, it is important to consult with a doctor about any recommended vaccinations. Visitors should also bring any necessary medications with them, as some medicines may be unavailable in China. Furthermore, travelers should drink only bottled water while in the country, and avoid any uncooked foods or unpeeled fruits. Moreover, wearing sunscreen is a must to protect from the sun, and ensuring that the living environment is clean at all times.

Despite the pollution in some areas, air-cleaning masks are often available at convenience stores. Finally, travelers should consider having health insurance in case of emergencies, as this can save time and expenses should a medical problem arise. Over-the-counter medicines are sometimes difficult to find, so they should be brought from overseas as a precaution.

John Melendez

John J. Melendez is a journalist, author, and commentator specializing in Chinese culture, politics, and international relations. He is a frequent guest on radio and television programs, and is the author of several books on Chinese culture and politics. He currently resides in Beijing, China.

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