Food Glorious Food
One thing's for sure, when visiting "The Middle Kingdom", you will get to try some of the most delicious, authentic Chinese cuisine, like nothing you've ever tasted before. We're not talking about your local takeaway from up the road Chinese food, the Chinese restaurant in my hometown in Australia is very good but it tastes nothing at all like the food you will find in China. Different regions have different local cuisine, so it depends on which part of China you will be visiting, as to which tasty food you will get to try.
Unfortunately ordering food in China can be a big ordeal. The names of Chinese dishes have absolutely nothing to do with what they actually are. It can turn into a bit of a guessing game as to what the dish is, that has turned up on your table. In this day and age with our trusty smart phone in hand, it's a really good idea to download a good quality Chinese to English dictionary. I personally used and can recommend Pleco. It comes with a scanner that can read Chinese text...very useful to see exactly what you're about to order and put in your mouth, then again maybe you don't want to know!
Other Dining Setbacks- Lets look at one common situation that occurs when it comes to eating. You sit down for that huge, mouth-watering Chinese banquet that lays before you... but you're not exactly a Mr Miagi when it comes to using chopsticks. In many places they don't have knives, forks and spoons and if your stay is for a reasonable time frame...well...you're going to starve. Did you know that even Chinese people get cramp in their hands from using chopsticks? A big part of the China experience is eating the local food in the local fashion, armed with your chopsticks... but if you're not exactly used to the art of eating with two sticks, I highly recommend you carry around a small portable spoon and fork set. You're not going to need the knife because they don't eat big pieces of steak and meat (that is unless you go to a western style restaurant and in that case they will have a full set of cutlery for your use). If you're visiting China, you're not going to spend too much time eating western food though... are you?
When You've Gotta Go
After you've enjoyed eating the amazing Chinese Cuisine and sampling Pijiu (beer) or the Bai Jiu (white Chinese spirit) *warning - Bai Jiu is not for the faint hearted or casual drinkers among us) chances are you will be looking for a place to relieve your somewhat bloated stomach. Finding countless numbers of horrific "Chinese Toilet" stories online is really not very difficult. This country has a history of squat toilets, and whilst nowadays it has become more common to find western "sit on toilets" around China fairly easily, it could well be that you really are not going to want to use them. Many Chinese people still use them like a squat (drop toilet)... but kindly let you know by leaving their footprints all over the seat, you may just prefer to use the more common squat toilet facilities. Toilet Travel Tips: Nothing will prepare you for country toilets. It really is a good idea if at all possible, to find an alternative. Whether you are in the city or the countryside, always carry a small pack of tissues with you as most toilets in China do not supply toilet paper. ALSO...the smell really is something else...a nice little trick is to carry around some Vicks Vapor Rub to put on a tissue to hold over your nose or dab under your nose.
Keeping In Touch
If you want to cut out global roaming costs on your mobile or smart phone, you will need to buy a Chinese SIM card to put into it. This is not a difficult process, and you can go into one of the Chinese providers such as China Mobile or China Unicom to set it all up. My parents were recently here for one month. We picked up a SIM including 100 MB of data for a smart phone for the price of 150 rmb , that's around $25 AU. What you don't want to do is lose your original sim or memory cards, it's really easy for this to happen. I'm a frequent traveller and I'm always misplacing my sim card in the process of changing from one country to the other. You put them in your wallet and the get damaged, you put them in your carry on luggage and they get lost. They easily get misplaced or destroyed, so keep them somewhere safe.
Portable Power- Still on the subject of phones. Our smart phones have become an extremely useful travel companion. We can download all kinds of wonderful travel apps, language apps, maps, book hotels etc. the problem is that when we are on the road travelling, we often find that the battery just won't go the distance. To make sure that you don't get stranded on the roadside keep your travel companion powered up and ready to keep on going, with a portable rechargeable external back up battery pack.
Often crowded, travelling in China has become a whole lot easier with the arrival of the super fast bullet trains. In recent years, what was a 23 hour trip from the Chinese town I was located in, over to Shanghai on the train, now can be completed in 7 hours. These fast trains are fantastic. You can still (of course) access coaches, slow trains (soft and hard sleepers) and domestic flights as well as local (depending on where you are) B.R.T, buses and Metro (underground/subway). With all these choices... prices, comfort and quality varies quite a bit. Travel Tips: The fast trains are awesome but do not have much room if you're carrying big cases or have lots of luggage. Apparently there is a way to book luggage in to a different carriage, but I never found out how. Also the actual time allocated for people to board on to the trains... is very little and often includes many stairs, many people AND whilst you will see lifts and escalators, for some reason they mostly leave them turned off...be warned. ANOTHER TIP: In bigger cities like Shanghai, you can grab a transport card (pictured below) which you can pre-load with money. These are a really convenient way to get around the city on most modes of transport without struggling with having the right money on hand.
Last but definitely not least, we can't ignore the language barrier problem. China is not really the easiest of places to get around if you don't have any idea about the local language. There is not much in the way of good English signage, and you don't often meet many Chinese people who are willing to converse with you in English, so, you really need to get some Chinese language skills under your belt. There are many apps available for android and iPhone with regards to translating phrases and words. Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to directly translate into English, so I don't particularly recommend using any form of smart phone translator or electronic translator, at least not to rely purely on one anyway. I've mentioned Pleco Chinese Dictionary earlier, It's reliable to look things up on the go. However, just having a dictionary on hand won't be anywhere near as effective without a knowledge of some basic sentences and phrases under your belt. There are many online courses to take, In my eyes Pimsleur Mandarin is by far the best course in spoken Chinese Mandarin that you can find. It won't teach you to read or write, but it will teach you to listen and speak. There are many modules available depending on how much you want to learn and how much you want to spend. If you are just planning a short holiday in China, I recommend not burning a hole in your wallet and going for "Pimsluer Quick and Simple Chinese" or the "Pimsluers Conversational Mandarin Chinese" If you're planning on moving to China (for a job) or really want to throw yourself into learning the language, buy the complete course...it's not cheap, but I don't think you'll be disappointed. I've found that you can also get this on audible, very useful. I'm not affiliated in any way with Pimsluers technique, but I really can't recommend it highly enough.
China is an amazing country, full of interesting places, delicious food, ancient history and will likely be an experience that will fill you with many stories to recount to your friends and family. You will find yourself speaking of adventures, hardships, unbelievable moments, share your disgust, boast about your mandarin speaking skills and share the moments of pure wonder about everything that makes China, well...China.