China is vast and conditions can be extreme. Depending on the season and region, there are many pleasant times to travel. Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, in the north and northeast, can reach temperatures of -22F(-30C) during the winter, but have moderate rainfall and highs in the 70s and low 8os F (20s C) in the summer, Shanghai, which is on China’ s central eastern seaboard, has a long humid summer, a short winter and a moderate, but chilly spring and autumn. The south has hot humid summers that last from April to September with temperatures in the high 90s F or even higher (high 30s C). Late summers also include a rainy season, so beware of typhoons. Springs and autumns are pleasant with temperatures in the low 70s F (low 20s C), but evening can be damp and chilly. Tibet is bitterly cold and windy during the winters. The summers can be very hot, with daytime temperatures above 95 F (high 30s C),but summer nights can practically turn into winter until the sun rises again. The northwest has hot hot but dry summers. Xinjiang, in the far northwest, is just as cold as the rest of northern China during the winters.
ENGLISH AT YOU SERVICE
Higher-end hotels have English-speaking staff. Western food establishments, large shopping centers and a few small vendors will be able to execute transactions in English. Most bars and high-end Chinese restaurants near hotels have English-language menus and a staff with basic English knowledge. Taxi drivers are beginning to learn English, through most know very little beyond “hello” and “goodbye”. Try to exercise patience when encountering someone who doesn’t speak English and hope they’ ll do the same if you don’ t speak Chinese. Since the 70s, the students start learning English in middle school. When you need to find someone who can speak English, young Chinese in their early 20s will have a better chance understanding you.
EMBASSIES & CONSULATES
Log in to www.embassyworld.com for a comprehensive listing of Chinese embassies and consulates around the world and foreign embassies and consulates in China. Beijing, as the capital, is home to foreign embassies, and a number of countries have consulates in cities such as Shanghai, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Chongqing and Shenyang, among others.
A visa is required for foreigners to enter the People’ s Republic of China. Foreign travelers to China can easily obtain Tourist/Family Visit Visas or “L” Visas. Applicants can opt for single or double entry. “L” Visas allow for a stay of 30 days, and are valid for 3 months upon issue; the count begins when you enter China, Stays of up to 90 and 180 days are also possible. Visa applications can be obtained through your regional Chinese embassy or consulate or through travel agencies. It’ s best to ask your local People’ s Republic of China representative office for up-to-date information for visa requirements, Application processes usually take 3 to 5 business days but expedited same day or next day service is usually available for a fee.
Visa extensions in China are handled at the local Public Security Bureau’ s Foreign Affairs Department. One month extensions may be granted at the discretion of the issuing officer. Hong Kong is a good place to get new visas into China without going too far away.
Be aware that some travel destinations will require special travel permits-destinations that require these are mentioned in the individual articles.
There are restrictions on the type of things you can bring into and take from China. These limits include the amount of cigarettes(400) and wine or spirits (2 bottles) that can be imported. Cash amounts that exceed US $5,000 must be declared at customs upon entering China. Importing perishable goods is prohibited. Jewelry, cultural relics, gold and silver items and handicrafts bought in China are required to be shown to customs when departing. Customs reserves the right to confiscate article deemed “cultural treasures” which are items dated earlier than 1795. Make sure you keep the receipt when you buy jewelry, art, and antique. You might need to present the receipt to the custom officials when you leave China.
CURRENCY & EXCHANGE
Most major currencies can be exchanged into Chinese currency, which is called renminbi (RMB or “people’ s money”). The basic unit is the yuan or colloquially know as the kuai. One yuan is divided into 10 jiao, which is also called a mao. One is further divided into 10 fen. Foreign currency can be exchanged at airports, border crossing, tourist hotels, some large shopping centers and major branches of Bank of China. Exchange rates are subject to change, so it’ s best to check your local bank or the many websites that offer conversion information.
Hotels in China accept travelers checks from their guests and the exchange rate is slightly higher than cash. Large Bank of China branches also accept them, though it’ s convenient to exchange them at the airport upon arrival. You’ ll need to keep exchange receipts if you plan on exchanging back into the original currency. If your checks are issued from a major company, there shouldn’ t be a problem in cashing them. If you are uncertain, check with the hotel beforehand.
Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted in China but are still the domain of upscale venues. Some places advertise with the Visa logo but only accept Chinese cards; ask if they accept international cards. Cash advances are also possible but only at major Bank of China locations where a commission and a minimum amount is usually stipulated.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are found throughout large cities like Beijing. Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, though more are appearing elsewhere. Airports, large banks and some hotels have ATMs that issue RMB directly. There is a maximum daily withdrawal limit. Cirrus, Master-card, Visa and American Express are among the accepted credit cards and Hong Kong and Macau have a number of others. It’ s not a good idea to completely rely on ATMs, as they are prone to disrepair.
TIPS, SERVICE CHARGES & TAX
Tips are not expected for most services. Many mid-range and high-end restaurants and hotels include a service fee in the bill, so tipping is not expected and may even be refused if you try. Exceptions to this rule include hotel porters and tour guides, who gladly appreciate them. Taxes are included in the stated prices.
DRIVING LICENSES & RESTRICTIONS
Foreigners who want to drive in China require an International Driving Permit; this can be arranged at the local PSB. However, there are extensive restrictions on inter-city driving. Cares can be rented in Hong Kong and Macau relatively hassle free. If you’ re renting a car in Beijing or Shanghai, you’ ll be restricted within the city limits. Information on drivers-for-hire can be found in ex-pat entertainment magazines.
PHONE & COMMUNICATIONS
PHONE CARDS & LONG-DISTANCE CALLING
Internet Photo cards are very common in China. They can be found in hotels, news kiosks, airports and many stores. These cards can be used for domestic long distance and international calls. International rates run from RMB 2.5 to 3.5 per minute. Conventional phone cards are twice the price and are found only in hotels and telecommunication shops. Dialing direct and calling collect are more expensive options.
For local calls, a mobile phone isn’ t a necessity since there are many card-operated phone booths in the city-one can purchase the necessary “IC” phone cards in mom-and-pop shops, newsstands and phone store. Furthermore, many small shops prominently display (usually red) phones that customers can use for a fee.
Having a mobile phone during your stay in China can be extremely practical, especially if you’ re traveling on business. China has both GSM and CDMA networks, though the former is far more popular. You can bring your tri-band phone from home and it’ ll work with the Chinese networks, though any calls you make will be considered long-distance. A cheaper option, and one that is especially, is to acquire a local telephone number. To do so, simply buy a SIM card, which is a telephone number, at any mobile phone store and insert it into your phone – don’ t forget to replace it with your original card when you go home. (Incidentally, cell phone numbers which contain lucky digits, like “8”, which sounds like “wealth” in Chinese, are more expensive than those with unlucky ones, like “4” which sounds like “death”) Once you have a local number, purchase a prepaid calling card they come in denominations of RMB 30,50, 100, 300 and 500 – add it to your SIM card and start dialing. Prepaid cards are sold in cell phone shops, convenience stores and newsstand, Replace as needed.
Internet cafe are a booming business in China and you should have no trouble finding one in cities, big or small. Besides internet bars, tourist hotels, universities and libraries should be connected. Connection speed for foreign websites might be slow due to the bandwidth bottleneck between China and the West.
Four-and five-star hotels may have ESPN, ANN or BBC. The state-run Chinese Central Television (CCTV) has an English language channel, CCTV-NEWS. This broadcast runs international news, business reports and Chinese cultural programs for foreigners.
Newsstands in China generally don’ t stock foreign newspapers and magazines. but most four-and -five-star hotels sell publications like The International Herald Tribune. USA Today, the Asian Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Economist, Newsweek and Time.
If you want to know what’ s happening in China, your best bet is to consult a locally published English-language newspaper or magazine. China Daily, a broadsheet often offered for free in hotels and sold for RMB 1,5 in newsstands, is a trove of information about China, Its Tuesday insert, Business Weekly, provides in-depth coverage of business and finance, and its weekend section focuses on travel and entertainment.
Large cities like Shanghai and Beijing offer expat-authored English language entertainment guides. Here you can find the latest specific information on nightlife, services, resources, and entertainment acts in your locale. A major ex-pat guide is the that’ s series which has a Beijing, Shanghai, PRD(Pearl River Delta) and national edition.
Large bookstores usually have a foreign language section with some translated Chinese literature and Western classics.
Major cities have large foreign language bookstores. It’ s also a good place to stock up on phrasebooks and anything related to Chinese culture or history.
You may find it helpful to have a good map to complement those found in this book. Basic maps are widely available: hotels give them to guests; hawkers sell them outside tourist sites.
CHINESE WEIGHTS & MEASURES
The metric system is used in China, though Chinese jin, which is equal to half a kilogram or 1.1 pounds, is used by street venders-but not in supermarkets. The Chinese word for kilometer (62mile) is gongli, and is used on taxi meters and road signs. Another useful word is mi, which is Chinese for meter.
Time in all of China is officially set to Beijing time, which is eight hours ahead of GMT. However, since China is spread across several lines of longitude, people in the western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet adjust their schedules a couple hours earlier according to the sun. The following are some examples of time differences with other major cities in the world.
Noon in Beijing means it’ s:
2pm in Sydney
1pm in Tokyo
7am in Moscow
6am in Johannesburg
5am in Berlin
4am in London
11pm in New York (previous day)
8pm in Vancouver (previous day)
Government and business offices follow a Monday through Friday work week, though some are open on Saturday as well. The workday is roughly 8:30am to 5pm or 6pm with a one-or two-hour lunch break at midday. Many museums are open on the weekend and pick two weekdays to close.
Most businesses, including travel agencies and banks, keep similar hours – but they don’ t close for lunch and are open throughout the weekend. Zoos and public parks also operate on similar schedules.
Chinese restaurants may close in the late afternoon before the dinner rush. Some restaurants and most bars stay open until late at night. There are an increasing number of 24-hour fast-food outlets and convenience stores.
Traditionally the Chinese used the lunar calendar and many Chinese holidays are based on lunar dates; therefore, the dates jump around on the Western calendar in everyday life.
Here’ s a list of major holidays:
New Year’ s Day
Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)
late-January or early-February
falls in February
Tomb Sweeping Day (Qing Ming Festival)
International Labor Day
Dragon Boat Festival
falls in June
falls in September
The different origins of celebrations mean varying degrees of enthusiasm for a given holiday. Christmas and New Year’ s Day has begun to draw widespread celebration.
WATER & FOOD
Domestic beer, popular Chinese spirits such as baijiu, wine and cigarettes are widely available. There is a nationwide anti-smoking campaign, which is severely cutting back on young people’ s smoking habits.
Squatting toilets are abundant in China. If you’ re out and about and nature calls, look for a “WC” sign-these are public toilets. Public toilets can be found in commercial areas and are usually well-marked. A useful word to know is cesuo, which is Chinese for toilet. Some public toilets require a small fee, others are free. Most public toilets don’ t supply toilet paper, but have it for sale. Still, it’ s advisable to carry some tissue paper with you at all times. If you can’ t seem to find a washroom, try heading into a McDonalds or Kentucky Fired Chicken outlet; most fast-food places will have a relatively clean washroom.
China is generally safe for foreigners, though there are some things travelers, should be aware of. Crimes against travelers are usually petty thefts rather than violent crimes. It’ s best not to leave valuables in your hotel room while you’ re gone. Take advantage of the hotel’ s safe if it offers one. General safety precautions and common sense should be used.
When you are taking a metered taxi, the driver should push down the flag at the start of the ride-this engages the meter. If your driver should fail to engage it, remind him to use the meter. At the end of the ride, pay the amount shown on the meter-the only surcharge may be highway toll fees. Taxi drivers don’ t expect tips. You can ask for your receipt, which will list the driver’ s identification and company telephone number. These are useful numbers to have if you’ re left something in the cab or wish to lodge a complaint.
It’ s a good idea to bring whatever medication you’ ll need, prescription and brand name drugs. Large cities have well-stocked pharmacies, but it’ s better to bring your own medication for basic illnesses such as headaches and diarrhea- you don’ t want to be stuck with an upset stomach while trying to figure out what medicine to buy in a foreign language. Depending on where you go, mosquito repellent is a good idea.
Voltage is 220v in China. Most outlets fit two-pronged parallel or three-pronged triangular plugs. Converters of 110v to 240v may be hard to find.
Street market vendors and smaller shopping centers expect price bargaining. They will attempt to overcharge foreigners, but a skilled bargainer can drop a price to near the Chinese one. Hotels, restaurants and large shopping centers with clearly marked prices usually will not bargain. Exchanges are possible if you hold on to receipts. Be cautious when buying expensive antiques unless you’ re knowledgeable about them. Genuine antiques have a red seat at the bottom indicating they’ re authentic and can be exported from China, though be weary of fake seals. Antiques dated before 1795 can’ t leave the country. Finally, keep your receipts, since you may have to show them when departing China.