Coming to china? Read this! – The things I wish I would’ve known
Ok so now that I have been here for quite a while I have started to reminisce about my trip and think about how different things are now compared to 7 months ago when I first arrived, or compared to 8 months ago when I was in preparation mode. I spent countless hours looking at blogs and websites trying to find a “master list” of things to bring and to prepare. Although I found many lists, there wasn’t one list that was reliable enough to count on alone. Here is my attempt at a master list of what to prepare and bring with you on your voyage to China. Whether you are coming to teach, work, study or travel, here are the essentials:
(Disclaimer – These are all things that myself, or Leah, have personally dealt with… take the advice, trust us!)
1) Get a good VPN – After a 20 hour trip through multiple time zones, it is not fun to get to your destination and be completely cut off from your family or even from the people you are meeting. Most hostels and hotels have free Wi-Fi but you will quickly find this pretty worthless because you can’t connect to Gmail, can’t get on your facebook, and have a hard time even loading Cnn.com (not to mention YouTube). Getting a good VPN BEFORE you get to China is key. Now I am not making any money off of this, but Witopia VPN is affordable (60$ for the year), easy to use, and their customer support is awesome. They have a 24 hour live chat that has been amazing for me. Don’t get me wrong, you are still going to have problems. The Chinese government literally has an army of people whose only job is to destroy VPN connection and make surfing the internet a chore. Having solid internet is something we definitely take for granted in the States but a good VPN is something you will thank yourself for later.
2) Get wireless internet – Going along with the VPN, getting wireless internet as soon as you can when you arrive is very important. It is not difficult to set up and makes life a lot easier. Most foreigners will have a hard time using internet cafes and don’t waste time or money getting those little USB wireless cards. They are OK as a second option but act like cell phones in terms of where you get reception. Just have a Chinese person either come with you to the internet service provider’s office or even have someone just write something down for you in Chinese telling the employees what you want. It is very simple and wireless internet is a great thing to have in China.
3) Buy a kindle – Ok, or you can bring lots of books… but finding bookstores with English books can be a pain and is expensive. China is not a foreigner-friendly country in terms of buying English books or periodicals. Kindle’s are 140$ new and are a godsend. Anything from travel books, audible books, games and newspapers, you can keep up-to-date with going ons back home. They actually play music and have headphone jacks too (some have 3G wireless internet and everything). When backpacking, you can simply pack your kindle and not worry about computer, i-pod, etc… I got one for my birthday this year and read it every single day.
4) Bring a hefty supply of medicine – I have managed to stay relatively healthy in China but would have been in trouble without the little pharmacy I brought with me. If you take vitamins or any other medication daily, make sure to bring a years supply. You can find creative ways of packing them in your luggage as not to take up a lot of space. I would definitely recommend some sort of stomach medication, even if you don’t have normal stomach issues. Your diet will most likely be largely carb based and there is tons of fat (oils) used for cooking. No matter what province you are heading to, the cuisine is prepared differently, the crops are grown differently, and the standard hygiene is way worse than what you are probably used to. Also, get a doctor to prescribe you a couple of rounds of antibiotics. That way you can fight off stomach bugs or other illnesses before visiting a hospital as a last resort. They don’t have doctor’s offices so any trip to a doctor is to the hospital… and they are NASTY! I would also highly recommend a daily multivitamin or the common AirBorn or Emergen-C daily vitamin supplements. Your diet will be completely different and you will be exposed to a whole new array of germs so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Even things like Advil, allergy medicine, motion sickness medicine, etc… are all smart to bring because it saves you a trip to a pharmacy (which is extremely annoying if you can’t speak Chinese).
5) Outlet converters – Enough said… you need these to plug anything in. Also, sometimes chargers get fried on cheap electronics (beard trimmers, tooth brushes) so if there is something you need, try to bring two chargers.
6) Clothes for all seasons – If you are in China for any long period of time you are going to want to have clothing for all weather. It is very hard to find clothes that fit unless you have a body like, well like an Asian person. It is not impossible, but is just more difficult and the clothing will be hard to find. China is a giant country so a 4 hour train ride could be the difference between pants and shorts, so pack accordingly.
7) Deodorant, tampons, and toothpaste – Bring lots of them. Tampons and stick deodorant are literally non existent. Most Chinese don’t wear deodorant (if they do it is spray on) and there are NO tampons, just pads. They have millions of kinds of toothpaste but it all sucks so throw a few tubes of that Crest in your suitcase… it goes a long way.
8) Visa – Get all or as much of your visa process sorted while you are still in your home country. The less of that business you have to deal with while you are over here, the better. Bureaucracy is hell in China, and it is literally impossible if you are not fluent in Mandarin. I have had to visit visa and resident permit offices many times, had passports sent back to me the day I was to be traveling and have friends who have been kicked out of the country and fined tons of money for visa problems. It is inevitable that you will have to deal with a visa or passport issue at some point, but it is worth your while to pay more money to get a permanent visa before entering China.
9) A good base of Mandarin – Or no Mandarin. Do not waste your time on trying to learn a few basic things before you leave… there is really no point. The language is very complicated and is a tonal language, meaning it is not something you can learn very quickly. Rosetta stone is OK… if you have months to dedicate to it. Don’t waste your time trying to cram it in before you leave. If you have the chance to get a tutor or take some lessons, then do it, but other than that, just accept the fact that you will not be able to speak with people. Get used to copying down characters from the internet to show cab drivers and try to line up some lessons as soon as you get here. I think a one-on-one private tutor is the way to go. Talk to other expats or foreigners about tutors. Unless you are living in one of the major cities, a tutor should be no more than 100yuan (15USD) for 2 hours. After a month or 2 of lessons with a tutor, you will be getting around fine.
10) A nice camera – This is a no brainer but some people think it is cheaper to buy electronics in China and decide to wait. This is true to an extent but specialty electronics (especially anything name brand) will actually be more expensive in China than elsewhere. Camera, I-pod, Laptop, Kindle… bring with you. Everything else… definitely buy here. You can get extremely cheap DVD players and televisions, so don’t worry about that kind of stuff.
11) An open mind – I know, so typical, but it’s true. China smells, people are very rude (according to our definition), you most likely can’t communicate, and it is a still-developing communist country. Be prepared to be in situations where you are stuck and no one can help you. Be prepared to be ignored, pushed, hassled, screamed at, stared at, photographed, spit on, coughed on, have seed shells thrown on you, have cigarettes shoved in your mouth and be laughed at. And the majority of those things will happen on a regular basis. Just sit back and learn to enjoy it… you do get used to it and the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. You will be a much more patient person when you return to wherever you came from