Wednesday, May 28, 2014

China - know before you go

We just returned from a 9 day trip to China visiting Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Suzhou, While we had an amazing time, there are some things I wish we knew in advance that would have made travel there easier. So, I’m putting this list together for you to learn from our mistakes and avoid any of your own travel bloopers.

1. Airport security - If you’re a frequent traveler like us, you know the drill. Shoes off, laptop in security bin, liquids in the small ziplock back, and your good to go right? Wrong! We found the security in Chinese airports to actually be tougher than we experience at home. While we didn’t need to remove our shoes, they did scrutinize our electronics every single time. They wanted not just the camera in the bin but the individual lenses as well, and even the cords to every electronic device we were carrying. We also had trouble twice with our checked luggage. First we got flagged for our outlet converter, than for a magnet in Shanghai that they thought was a battery. Everything worked out ok in the end, but still wish we knew ahead of time.

TIPS: Bring a large ziplock bag to hold all your power cords. That way, you won’t be     
          fumbling around in your luggage at the security line to find them all. If you have a soft   
          camera bag, you are allowed to open it up in most cases to expose the camera and   
          lenses to avoid taking each one out individually. 

Keeping our power cords in one placed helped get us through security


2. The bathroom situation - We’ve all heard various rumors on the lack of Western style facilities throughout China. While I definitely saw more than my fair share of squatter toilets, there was usually always at least one Western toilet in each restroom, with the exception of 1 time in Xian airport. Hotels had facilities nicer than we have here in the USA. The one thing I didn’t account for was a lack of toilet paper in bathrooms! Some had none at all, while other’s had one roll near the paper towels when you first walk in.My advice is to carry some toilet paper with you at all times, better safe than sorry!

I came prepared to the Beijing airport! 

3. Diapers - or lack thereof! Like the toilet paper situation, there also seems to be a diaper shortage in the country. But fear not, China has a plan B - ass-less and crotchless pants! I had heard about this before we arrived but had thought it occurred in more rural areas of the country. Imagine my surprise when we walked passed a squatting baby right next to porta-potties at the bird’s nest in Beijing and later dodged a pee puddle forming from a little boy at the Temple of Heaven. Think twice before putting anything on the ground anywhere in China, and watch where you walk!

butt-less baby pants china
Photo courtesy of Brooke vs the world

4. The food - Now, this was something I knew before I came, but still worth mentioning here. The Chinese really dislike wasting food. So much so, that they will eat animal/fish parts that we wouldn’t even think twice about tossing... Picture fish heads, animal stomachs, balls, feet, etc... If it comes on the animal, it will show up on your plate! On top of this, if it is alive, they will cook it (in most cases)! Fried bugs are a thing in Chinese night markets, and I even indulged in one of these myself, which I will save for a later post! 

XIan night market food
What animal is this???

5 . Currency - Everyone knows the Chinese use the Yuan. But, what we didn’t realize was how common it is for vendors to give change in counterfeit currency. We were warned by our tour guide not to get 100 Yuan bills for this reason and to keep with small bills as much as possible. In fact, this caused a slight argument with the front desk as they exchanged our $200 US and claimed to only have 100 Yuan bills to give us. After some discussion, they agreed to give us 10 Yuan bills, and not realizing we agreed. Turns out a 10 Yuan bill equates to about $1.60 US, so we were basically walking with a wad of singles the whole time! Bette safe than sorry though, as a few people on our tour were given counterfeit 50 Yuan bills and were stuck with them. The moral of the story, use small bills, but I recommend 50’s and 20’s as 10’s were a bit too small!

Chinese Yuan
Different denominations of Chinese Yuan

Overall we had a great visit, and would have made things easier on ourselves if we knew some of the things we know now! Do you have any tips to add?

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