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4 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling in China

Oct. 13, 2017

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Traveling in China often brings up a lot of confusion and anxiety for foreigners. China, despite being the most populated country in the world, is still a bit of a mystery for foreign visitors.

My first trip to China was my most exciting! I didn’t know what to expect at all! I was a bit scared, but from the moment I landed in Beijing, I felt right at home. Well…kind of. China is much different from other countries. Its ancient traditions and culture are found nowhere else. Since that first trip, I’ve moved to China to live and study Mandarin Chinese. Often, friends back home will ask me what to do and how to prepare for their first trip in China.

Here are 4 travel hacks that I always tell my friends visiting China:

1. Avoid cultural taboos that may cause misunderstanding or offense.

Many Chinese people are superstitious. For example: the number 8 is a lucky number because “八 () eight” sounds much like “发 ()”, which means “well-off” or “getting rich in a short time”. Therefore, #8 is considered to be a number that could lead to great wealth. Phone numbers, car license plate numbers and house addresses that include #8 are more expensive and in high demand. On the other hand, the number “四 () four” is extremely unlucky, as it shares the same sound as the Chinese word for “死 () death”. Also, never mention death in a conversation – this is a very bad omen as well. As for its “corresponding” number four, many elevators won’t even list a fourth floor! Check it out:

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2. Be considerate and polite when having dinner with Chinese people.

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Eating is central to Chinese life and culture. If you suggest going out for a meal or a drink with someone, this is considered an invitation. As the host, you can pay for the bill in this situation to show your kindness and respect. When you go to a restaurant, never order a dish just for yourself. Each dish is for sharing with others that you go out with. Family, friends and colleagues are important and the sense of community is very strong in China. The number of dishes increases with the number of people. However, don’t worry, everyone gets a separate small bowl to serve themselves from the common plates at the table. This method is great for tasting the many delicacies of China!

3. Make sure you’ve installed “微信 WeChat” and “支付宝 Alipay” apps.

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China is a land of convenience and service if you’ve lined up the right resources before you arrive. You can manage all of your daily activities online: order food, transportation tickets, hotel bookings, flights and many other necessities of your trip through these two popular and essential apps in China.

4. Learn the most common and useful expressions in Mandarin Chinese before you go.

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Very few people in China actually will speak English. Nearly all taxi drivers, bus drivers and local service industry will not be able to communicate in English. In certain hotels, restaurants and public institutions, staff may be required to learn standard English phrases to suit their customers. However, if you ask something outside of their “script” they might not be able to understand you. Therefore, it is crucial to learn some basic Mandarin Chinese for travel before you go! You can begin by taking a travel Chinese class. The first one is on the house!

Basic Sentences to Help Tourists Get Around China
Chinese Conversational Lessons
“Where is the toilet?”

So, don’t be worried about your upcoming trip to China! If you’re curious about traveling in China, but concerned about cultural barriers, don’t be! With just a bit of homework and preparation, your time in this vast, fascinating country will go smoothly. Actually, like many other expats here, you may never go back home. China, like it’s famous cuisine, can be quite addictive!

Quiz:

1. Which of the following can’t help foreigners when mixing with Chinese people in China?

A. Use Alipay to book the train ticket for travelling in advance.
B. Sending four beautiful flowers to a female friend
C. Use Mandarin Chinese to ask for discounts when shopping in the food markets
D. Pay for the entire bill if you invite Chinese friends to have dinner
See Answer

―Elena Trevino―
Elena Trevino is a Mandarin Chinese student in Beijing studying the language to get a head start in international trade. She is most interested in seeing how Mandarin is affecting the fashion industry throughout the world as Chinese shoppers are now such a large factor. She is frequently attending fashion industry events in Beijing and throughout China.

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