It happened. You’ve arrived. After arriving in China and falling in love with Chinese culture you decided to commit yourself to the ultimate adventure. You hopped on a plane, and now you’re here. So what next? If you’re here with a company or school, they may have organized someone to pick you up at the airport. But what if you’re on your own? Well if you will be on your own, the best advice we can give you is to start learning Chinese as soon as possible so you will be ready to tackle your arrival in the land of the red dragon. It might also be useful to look up some dos and don’ts in China before arriving in order to avoid any cultural faux pas.
For advice about learning Chinese, check this video from our partners at ChinesePod:
Now, let’s start with the journey after arriving in China
Surviving The Journey From The Airport To Your Hotel
Before you even get on the plane, make sure you have the address in Chinese characters handy. If you get lost you can just show this to a taxi driver and they’ll take you where you need to go. Most taxi drivers won’t read or speak any English, so having it in Chinese is essential.
Once you’ve landed people inside the airport may offer you a lift, saying ‘taxi, taxi.’ As a foreigner, you’ll be targeted straight away. Ignore these people. They’ll charge you a fortune before you even begin.
Follow the signs, which will be in both Chinese and English, and find the official taxi queue. Wait in line until a taxi comes and then show them your address. Most of the time taxis in this queue will be safe but in case they try and quote you a fixed price insist on the meter which will be a lot cheaper. Tap the box in the cab and say 打表 dǎ biǎo.
Here are some more tricks for finding a taxi in Chinese:
If you want to travel on the cheap
Beijing and Shanghai both have high-speed trains that will take you from the airport to a metro station. Know your destination metro station before you begin. Download the Explore Metro app and preload your chosen city which will help plan out the route for you. (Whilst you’re downloading apps to help you survive in China, check out this list of 10 additional apps that will help make your life there a bit easier.)
You’ve Made It To Your Hotel… Now What?
So congratulations – you’ve made it. They’ve scanned your passport and you’ve checked in. If you’re like most of us after a shower the first thing on your mind will be the WiFi password; you’ll want to tell your family that you’ve arrived safely. Most hotels that cater for foreigners in major Chinese cities will have staff who speak some English, but if not just point to your device and say “wifi mìmǎ” (wifi 密码) and they’ll give you the password. (It’s probably 88888888!)
So you’re online. But for some reason, you can’t access Gmail or Facebook. Even Snapchat doesn’t seem to work. What’s going on? You’ve encountered China’s famous Great Firewall, the Internet censorship which is the bane of all foreigners in China. That is, unless you have a VPN. A VPN or “Virtual Private Network” basically redirects your IP address to a location overseas. You may be in China, but with a VPN it will be as if you’re using the Internet from a more free location. It’s best to set up your VPN on all your devices before you go to China.
Time to Get Some Cash
If the wallet’s a bit empty after the taxi ride you’ll be wanting to find a bank.
“Bank” in Chinese is 银行 yínháng.
“Where is the bank?” is 银行在哪儿 Yínháng zài nǎ’er.
“Exchange money” is 换钱 Huànqián.
If you want to use an ATM, look for the big banks, national banks like Bank of China, China Construction Bank and China Merchants’ Bank all should accept Visa and most international cards, and have English language options available.
Time for the first dinner in China
Now that you’ve got a fist full of hundred yuan notes it’s time to spend them in style. One of the real delights of China is the food, and by now you’ve probably noticed that the airline meal didn’t quite do the job. If you’re feeling brave the best way to experience Chinese food is to eat where the locals eat. Find a popular place, and dive in! Of course, you’ll be needing a few words, knowing what you’re ordering is always reassuring. Whilst there are thousands of Chinese dishes that vary per province, the essential building blocks are often the same. Here are a few critical characters to know:
面 – Miàn. The ubiquitous noodles.
肉 – Ròu. Meat.
羊肉 – Yángròu. lamb
牛肉- Niúròu. Beef
猪肉 – Zhūròu. Pork
鸡肉 – Jīròu. Chicken.
米饭 – Mǐfàn. Rice.
Food vendors will also often ask 要不要辣椒? Yào bùyào làjiāo? “Do you want chili?” If you’re a spice fan, say “yào” (want) – if not, say “bùyào” (don’t want). If you want to tell the person right from the start that you don’t eat spice just say 不要辣椒 bùyào làjiāo.
If you are vegetarian, it can sometimes get a little tricky finding a dish that works for you. Have a look at this Chinese language guide on how to survive as a vegetarian in China.
Check out this video for more tips:
Time to head back home and get some rest
After your first real Chinese meal you’ll probably be ready to head back home and sleep off the journey, ready to face your first full day in China tomorrow. We hope you can remember the way back! Always keep the Chinese address of your hotel on you. If you ever get lost you can show it to someone and ask 怎么去? Zěnme qù? How do I get there? Your head hits the pillow and you’re tired… but you can’t sleep! Back at home it’s probably still early in the day, and your poor internal clock is completely confused. Instead of stressing about it, you might as well use the time productively and crack into some Chinese study. Still remember that WiFi password? Great. The first thing you’ll want is to set up an account with ChinesePod if you don’t have one already. They have over 3500 lessons, so more than enough to help you pass an insomniac night.
Another great option is Skritter which will help you learn how to write the Chinese characters. They may all look like a blur now but learning Chinese characters holds the key to the language, history and culture of China. Once you get your head around the ingredients they’re made of they won’t seem so intimidating.
And That’s That
You’ll eventually drift off to sleep, and awaken to find yourself in a whole new world. Keep an open mind and enjoy the adventure. China is never what you expect, but if you accept the journey for its amusements and challenges you’ll find it an exciting place to live and an incredible adventure to enjoy.
Nathan Thomas works for the marketing team at Hutong School – China’s leading Chinese Language school with 10 years experience introducing foreigners to Chinese language and culture. Come visit them in Beijing or Shanghai. This post was written in partnership with ChinesePod.