In 2001 I went to China for a yearlong English-teaching program. I ended up staying for nearly five years. While my time in the country was a great, life-changing experience, the following are some suggestions I would like to share with anyone planning a short-term or long-term visit.
Be alert when dealing with traffic
China has crosswalks. But as one person once joked, they are there mainly for decoration. I found this out once when I began to walk across the street in a crosswalk only to have a taxi appear from nowhere and start blowing its horn for me to get out of its way.
As a pedestrian, you have to be careful when crossing the street, even when you have the green light. Because cars wanting to turn will turn, pedestrian be darned. Meanwhile, pedestrians will commit such acts as crossing the street even when the light is red and stepping out in front of vehicles and other pedestrians without looking.
If you ride in a taxi, you may want to close your eyes. Otherwise, you may be a wreck by time you reach your destination; drivers in China have their own style of driving that would test even the bravest of people.
While the traffic situation is starting to get better, as I could see when I returned to China for a few weeks in 2010, it still remains dangerous. So just be extra vigilante whenever you are on the streets and roads.
Tissues are a must when out and about
Many restrooms in China do not have any toilet paper, usually because they expect you to have your own. So it’s vital to always carry a few small packets of tissues with you whenever you go out. Otherwise, when nature calls, you could find yourself scrambling for options.
Fortunately, I never ran into this predicament, although I had the misfortune a couple times of having snot nearly explode out of my nose with no tissues on me.
But if you do find yourself having to go with no tissues on you, then a cruder option is to get a newspaper and use that as toilet paper. It is not the most effective of ways and in fact is a little messy, but it’s better than nothing. And don’t worry; most if not all of the restrooms in China have trashcans in the individual stalls.
Always buy hard sleepers for overnight train travel
The speed of trains in China has gotten way faster since I left the country in 2006. For example, a train from Beijing to Shanghai used to take at least 10 hours. Now, it can be as little as 5 hours if you take the bullet train. But there are still overnight train trips available. Primarily there are four options: Hard seats, soft seat, hard sleepers and soft sleepers. I never had a soft seat for overnight trips, but I have had the other three.
Once I took a hard seat for an overnighter to Dalian. It was crowded and loud. I got very little sleep, which made me cranky the next day. Dalian is a beautiful peninsula but it was among my least favorite trips in China simply because I was too tired to appreciate its natural beauty.
So I suggest you always take no less than a hard sleeper for any overnight trips. While hard seats are the most economical, it’s not worth the hassle.
With hard sleepers, there are six beds to a room, and they are less crowded. They are not as soft as the beds in a soft sleeper, but they are soft enough to sleep on. You won’t sleep like a baby but they will allow you to get enough sleep to be able to enjoy the next day without feeling tired.
I seriously recommend a trip to China. It’s not too difficult to get around and the country has so many treasures to visit. It gave me a new perspective on things and it even gave me my wife. If you go to China, your life will also change for the better.