So the holiday’s approved, ticket’s booked and all you need to do is throw a few things in the suitcase and you’re ready to face the
music err mayhem, madness and (of course) magic….that is mainland China!
I thought it only fair that I give you a heads up before you actually land, because there are some things you really don’t want to leave home without.
Here’s a brief list of those things my fellow China troopers and I have deemed ‘non negotiable’ packing items.
When I say tissues, I don’t mean that big box sitting on the dresser beside your bed! I’m talking about the small packets….the size of your phone…and as many as you can, without being questioned in customs about your Kleenex motives!
It’s no exaggeration to say that many public toilets in China won’t have toilet paper. Why? Rumour has it, people like to take the toilet rolls home. Yes! You read that right…stash them in their handbags and run; which as you can imagine, results in a bit of a dilemma if you arrive unprepared, sans tissue.
Trust me, there is nothing more frustrating that waiting in a rather smelly queue for about ten minutes only to find your cubicle has been cleaned out of the good stuff. You’ll no doubt be struggling with the whole idea of squatting (especially if you’re a woman) let alone the lack of paper. Occasionally you might find someone ‘selling’ it at the entrance. Your best bet though, just bring the tissues.
Oh, a little tip – the sewerage system for many public toilets is fairly antiquated, you won’t be able to flush your prized tissues down the toilet. Just put it in that little basket on the side (with your eyes closed).
2) Hand Sanitiser
Just as many public toilets won’t have toilet paper, they also won’t have soap and/or the taps won’t work. Let’s just say hygiene is not always China’s strong point. More often than not, out and about, gloves are not used in food preparation and things are just not cleaned to the standard you might expect. So, if you want to avoid running to the local doctor with a ‘Du Zi Teng’ (sore tummy)….hand sanitizer is your best friend. Use it at all times.
If for some reason you forget to use said hand sanitizer and that bad tummy strikes – you’re going to need some Buscopan/Immodium or the equivalent. And let’s not forget, a simple change in the type of food you’re eating can also cause things to go a little haywire.
You can try going to the local pharmacy to get something….(there are plenty) but unless you’re fluent in Chinese, I don’t like your chances. And if you do, by some sheer miracle, manage to get something (even from a local doctor) it’s usually not going to be the sort of remedy you would find at home.
My whole family got struck down at Christmas and let’s just say I have never wanted my local GP from home, more. Needless to say, my next trip to Hong Kong was with an extra suitcase just for medication!
Ordinary painkillers, antihistamines, cough medicine, antibiotics etc are also handy to have in your bag. Actually make that a travel prerequisite. And if you take prescribed medicines, bring sufficient for your entire stay. Going to a Chinese hospital as a foreigner is no easy task. BYO MEDICATION.
4) Chinese Phrases
It would be pretty handy if you could bring some Chinese with you… just a few phrases might do the trick….nothing too fancy.
Here’s a few to help you get by.
Hello – Nihao – ‘Knee How’
Goodbye – Zai Jian – ‘Zie Jee-an’
Thank you – Xie Xie – ‘Shear Shear’
Where is the toilet – Ce suo, zai na li – ‘Te Sor zie nar lee’
I would like to drink coffee – Wo yao he kafei – ‘Wo yow her Ka Fay’
I would like a white wine/beer – Wo yao he Bai Putaojiu/pijiu – ‘Wo yow her Bye Poo Tow jee-o/Pee jee-o’
Please call me a taxi – Qing gei wo da dianhua chuzuche – ‘Ching gay wor da dee-anne hwa ChooZooCher’
Please take me to… – Qing dai wo qu…. ‘Ching Die Wor Choo’
Can I have the bill please – Mai dan! – ‘My dan’
How much is it? Duo shao qien – ‘Door show (as in cow) chee-en’
Of course, always have the address of your hotel written down in Chinese characters and keep it on you at all times.
5) Face Mask
No doubt, unless you live on another planet, you will have heard about China’s infamous pollution?
Some people like to pass it off as ‘fog’…ahem…no. Of course on many days it is in fact quite pleasant, blue skies and all (I promise)!
But yes, I have to be honest…more often than not that haze is not fog.
There’s a fair chance whichever of China’s glorious 656 cities you find yourself in, there will be pollution. And I’m not just talking about a little bit of smog, this is hardcore. You can see it, smell it, taste it….your eyes water, your throat hurts. A mask will make things that much sweeter. Don’t worry, you won’t feel silly wearing one because the majority of the population is also masked up. (They even make pretty ones.) Fight the pollution!
Yes, it’s pretty obvious, but while there are a few passport holders that don’t need a visa to enter China for a couple of weeks (like Singapore, Brunei and Japan) most of us will not get into China without one.
Be warned: the process of getting one is also quite laborious. You need to go through the Chinese Embassy or consulate in your area.
Prepare your documents at least a month before your trip. As they like to say, get all your ducks in a row!
There are several different types of visas, so do your homework and work out which one is right for you. Just do it with plenty of time to spare.
7) ATM Card
A card you can use in ATMs overseas to get cash out is encouraged (warning not all cards will work in Chinese ATMs.)
In many parts of China, most foreign credit cards are not accepted (bar the occasional western brand stores like my fav, Zara or H & M (phew! wipes brow)! Unless you’re in a five star hotel or a major city, you are better off using an ATM to get the local currency (RMB) out. (I’ve even got a currency converter in the side bar for you.) If you’re bringing a credit card, let your bank know in advance, so they don’t block it when they see unusual transactions outside your home country. In China cash is king!
Psst… Don’t be alarmed when they scan said cash to check it’s the genuine thang! This is normal.
China is big on toiletries, but essentially we’re just talking the basics…especially outside the 1st tier cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. While you may find rows and rows of toothpaste and shampoo for your buying pleasure, you’ll be hard pressed to find more than one brand of hairspray or things like make up wipes, deodorant or razors. Even dental floss is an enigma around these parts.
Ladies, tampons are also hard to locate given most women use sanitary pads in Asia, so come prepared.
Bring plenty of moisturizer with you. If you’re up north as it’s very, very dry (even for you blokes), I’m talking lounge lizard type skin! Not kidding.
Sunscreen is also advisable…..unless you want to try the Asian way and wield an umbrella to shield you from the sun. (Just don’t poke anyone’s eye out!)
Ahhh the good old VPN….a Virtual Private Network or as I like to call it VPS – Virtual Protector of Sanity. If you need to stay connected during your stay, you may like to get one of these lined up before you travel. The Great Fire Wall is well and truly established, meaning China has very strict internet censorship with many sites you may take for granted, blocked! Not sure how a VPN works? Check out this post I recently wrote on VPNs.
10) SIM Card/Adaptor
Of course most countries will use different types of power points. In China, they use two types of plug sockets (which are often actually in the one power point). The two round pin like in the EU and the three prong flat angle blades like in Australasia. (Mind you some of my Australian plugs simply won’t fit in!)
You also might want to think about saving on global roaming costs and buying a SIM card in China. It’s quite easy to get and relatively cheap (50 to 100RMB). There are two major phone companies…China Unicom and China Mobile. If you live in certain countries like the US, you’ll need to get your phone unlocked, enabling it to accept a different sim card.
Most of all bring your sense of humour!! China is a weird and wonderful adventure for the taking… be sure to soak it all up and remember, though things might seem a little different to that which you know, it’s all part of an amazing experience.
On that note, I’ll leave you with a famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
This is China.