5 Things I Learned In China


1. Travel alone (or choose your travel buddy/group wisely)

I had planned to meet a friend in China and they were willing to show me around for the duration of my trip. I was taken to really cool places and provided with lots of opportunities to experience a lot of Chinese culture. However, about halfway through the trip, it started feeling restrictive and I just wanted to do my own thing. I’m the type of person that likes to meet new people and network while I travel. I also like to do solitary things like going to a museum or garden alone to get some R&R. I talked with my friend and decided to spend my last few days in Shanghai alone without a specific plan. It turned out to be the most rewarding part of my trip. I met people I wanted to meet and made some great friends and memories.

2. Get a SIM card

I was in China for just about two weeks. My initial thought was, “I’m on vacation, I wouldn’t want to be on my phone all day anyway.” But realistically, there were countless times when I just wanted to send a picture to a friend or look up a map online, but couldn’t without internet access. Also, I quickly learned that the process of connecting to public wifi in most Chinese cities is to enter your phone number and then enter a confirmation code that is sent to that phone number via text message. Because of that, my internet activity was restricted to when I was back at the place where I was staying, bumming off a friend’s wifi hotspot, or sitting in Starbucks.

3. Download a VPN before arrival

If you're the type that likes to share your travel moments via social media, this is a must. I was able to get a PPTP VPN login from a Chinese friend, but there are apps available that get the job done. Without a VPN, you won’t be able to use Google or check your gmail through a web browser. In terms of apps, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Gmail and others will not be able to access the internet even if your phone may be connected to a network. 

4. Most Chinese pay with their phone

Taxi, restaurant, hotel--almost everything can be paid for with your smartphone in China. By using the payment feature in Wechat or apps like Alipay, most young and middle-aged Chinese locals scan a QR code, enter a password, and within seconds have their transaction processed through their phone. Sadly, tourists can’t enjoy this feature because apps are connected to the Chinese bank account of the user, but it is definitely interesting to see how far ahead China is in this field of technology.

5. Most Chinese like to pay for guests and friends

Every time I had a meal with a Chinese friend, I wasn’t given the opportunity to pay or even split the bill. My Chinese friend even told me quite bluntly, “In China, this is how we do”, as they declined my cash and handed the cashier their card. Even in regular restaurants I’d see Chinese friends trying to put their credit card in the cashier’s hand first. I once witnessed two men shoving each other in front of a ticket booth at a train station. I thought they were fighting over the last seat on a train, but I asked my Chinese friend, and he laughed and explained to me, “that man just wants to pay for his friend’s ticket.”

Other random observations:

-Most Taxis in Shanghai are Volkswagen sedans, most Taxis in Beijing are Hyundai sedans.

-The Chinese version of karaoke/norebang is called KTV. I believe it stands for Karaoke Television.

-Chinese people love KFC (I saw KFC restaurants everywhere)

-If you travel to the Shanghai World Financial Center, don’t bother paying admission to go to the observatory. Take the elevator to the 87th floor and enjoy the view from the Hyatt Hotel’s lobby and cocktail bar.

-It’s very common for Chinese people to jaywalk. They just yield for oncoming traffic.

-It’s common to see bars that have hookah with various shisha flavors available on the menu.

-Uber is available in China and Chinese apps similar to Uber are popular among Chinese.

-Taking a bus to travel between cities is extremely cost efficient in China.

I wanted to make this a practical blog post that would be useful for others that are interested in visiting China. Therefore, I didn't mention too much about the government and social issues in China. I was reading Chinese news headlines and learned a thing or two about the role the government plays as well as a few more social and cultural points from Chinese friends. Hearing about such issues from a Chinese citizen's perspective was so intriguing.  I hope to share about one of those topics in more depth soon. Until then, stay thirsty.