11 Must-Knows Before Going to China



If you’ve been living under a rock, or if you’ve never really given China much thought (which is entirely fair enough) then you may not know that pretty much everything is blocked in China. Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat? Twitter? YouTube? BBC? Google? Gmail? Yeah… those don’t exist in China. Want to keep in contact with family and friends whilst away? I’m afraid those cool location-based Snapchat filters you were looking forward to on the Great Wall just won’t happen. Or that funky Instagram shot you were hoping for? Nope, sorry. An email via Hotmail or a quick message on Whatsapp will do the trick (thank God Whatsapp still works out there). You’ve been warned – but there is a way around it so keep reading!


Several friends of mine headed out to China for a couple of weeks during their university holidays to teach English and since I’d spent the past four months living there, I was their point of call. One thing I forgot to mention was squat toilets. They got a right shock when they arrived is all I can say! The only places in China that have Western toilets are major tourist attractions (the Chengdu Panda place does, for example), airports, hotels and really fancy shopping centres or restaurants. Other than that, all public toilets are squat toilets. Don’t let this scare you though – squatting is easy enough and actually healthier for you! Just be prepared for wet floors and lots of wet tissue everywhere… bringing me onto my next point.


Linked in with my toilet point above. You must take your own toilet paper in with you when you are visiting a public toilet. Very fancy restaurants will provide it, as will very posh shopping centres, but even then this isn’t always the case. Take your own toilet paper and you’ll be a happy bunny. Now, when it comes to washing your hands, 9.9 times out of 10 you will not find any soap or anti-bac gel so be sure to have a small bottle in your bag!


Another thing my friends always mention after a trip to China is their manners. In China, unlike in the UK and other Western countries, it’s acceptable to spit on the floor. I’m not talking about the spitting you see on the streets of London, oh no no no, I’m talking about hardcore spitting with full-on sound effects and gargling before they cough and splutter up the spit (or even snot) not once, but twice – sometimes even more! The worst part about this is that we, as general members of the public, are subject to this on the streets, on buses, on trains, even in restaurants sometimes! It’s horrible, I know, but be aware that it happens: and happens frequently.

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It’s a no-brainer really when you consider just how populated China is but you will still be shocked at how many people there actually are. You think London and the tube paired together are bad? Wait until you’re packed up against strangers in a crowded alley barely moving an inch for a good five minutes in China. Streets and crowded tourist places aside, the sheer amount of people in China only means queue lines. And a lot of them. The queues can be horrific and you’re sometimes waiting well over an hour for something you could easily do back in the UK in ten minutes. Surprisingly though, the queue lines aren’t particularly long when trying to buy tickets. Reason being? The Chinese are well ahead and advanced when it comes to technology… they have two major apps (WeChat & QQ – I’ve mentioned them before here and here) which combine our Facebook/Twitter/YouTube/Instagram into one but on top of those are able to also book taxis, buy food and also buy tickets (be that a cinema ticket or an aeroplane ticket!) This is what the new iOS 10 should have integrated in but it’s just come from the Chinese app idea…


Unless you’re adopted and physically look Chinese like me, chances are you will get goggled at whilst in China. You will be the local celebrity – mark my words. Ever wondered what it was like to have people fall off their bikes from staring at you? Ever wanted to experience true fame by having numerous photos taken with you on a daily basis by complete and utter strangers? Well, you’ve come to the right place. The majority of Chinese citizens have never even left their own province, let alone the country and the only time they see a non-Chinese looking person is on the TV and internet. When you come along, Christmas the Spring Festival (their Chinese New Year) has come early for them. Most of the time, it’ll just be stares (so get used to it – it’ll be weird), frequently you’ll catch pictures of you being taken on their phones (yes, even the adults do it & they’re not even subtle!) and occasionally you’ll get the brave few who approach you with their limited English to ask for a photo.

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If you’re dining at a rather nice Chinese restaurant, or even if you’re just at a local noodle place, Chinese etiquette is pretty much the same everywhere. All of the males eating at the very same place you are will be smoking. And smoking a lot. Yeah, get used to the smoking because it’s allowed everywhere in China. Yep, inside buildings, at bus stops, in clubs, even in train carriages (though only at the ends)?! The men will also be drinking, and drinking a lot. This will generally be beer or the infamous baijiu 白酒 which is an incredibly strong spirit. Another thing you shouldn’t be surprised about seeing is half-eaten, chewed up meat on the table. When the Chinese are eating their meals they just spit out what they don’t want (this could be bone, fat, shell – anything) onto the table and it sits there next to their main dishes. Though this doesn’t affect what you eat, it could be a sight for sore eyes.


So you’ve been invited round to your Chinese colleague’s house apartment for dinner? That’s great! Just don’t pull a face or be shocked when platefuls of chicken feet, pigs’ noses, pigs’ feet, duck tongues, even duck heads, fried goose intestines, etc etc etc. To be quite honest, you probably wouldn’t realise what you’re eating unless you asked. So please ask before you try something that looks delicious! You’re also going to eat a lot of rice whilst in China. The Chinese have rice with pretty much every single meal (no exaggeration) so get used to it.


Unless you go to the uber-Western cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, or major tourist attractions, chances are that the majority of Chinese people you will come across don’t speak English (or at least not a decent level of English – my students didn’t). Learning some basic Mandarin will really come in helpful, and even if it’s just a basic ‘hello’ (你好 pronounced ‘nee how’) or ‘thank you’ (谢谢 pronounced kind of like ‘sheeay sheeay’) then it will be appreciated! You’ll have to use your skills (i.e. body language) to convey what you want – be that pointing or miming an action. If you’re not comfortable with attempting communication, either take along a Mandarin-speaking friend to wherever you’re going, or alternatively download a translation app (Google Translate or iTranslate are both good). The NUMBER ONE app I will say you must download is called Pleco as it honestly is a life-saver. It’s essentially a phrase-book and dictionary app. You can type in words or phrases and just show someone your screen (you can even attempt to speak it using the little speaker button to help you). Pleco even lets you write in a Chinese character if you don’t know which one it is and then it will tell you the definition (for the more advanced with writing Chinese!)

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I don’t know the exact figure but a large part of China is heavily polluted. Because of this, particularly in Beijing, you’ll see a large amount of people wearing face-masks. These aren’t normal face-masks either – they’re air filters and protect you from inhaling the harmful air. If you’re heading to Beijing make sure you buy one! If you’re heading anywhere else, check the pollution levels online before going.


Following on from point number 1, there is a way to get around the infamous Great Firewall in China. You can do this with something called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). If you’re only in China for a couple of days or a week then just download a free version on your phone (I know that Betternet VPN is really good for iPhone) but if you’re in China for longer then there are paid alternatives. I myself was in China for four months and I opted for ExpressVPN (I think it was about £5-£6 per month) and this meant I could have a VPN on my laptop and phone, being able to access everything I would if I were back home. I did actually get my VPN entirely free of charge though so I didn’t pay a single penny in the end (all I’m going to say is 30-day money back guarantee 😉) There are lots of other paid options and these tend to be slightly more reliable than the free ones.

And that’s it for my must-knows before going to China. I may think of more (and when I do I’m sure I’ll hit myself for not including them!) but I’ll update this post if I do.

I hope this helps if you’re off to China and I’m happy to answer any questions! 🙂

Did you catch my Falls Festival 2015 vlog?

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Peace and love,
Viola xo


20 years old | bit of a nerd | thoughts about life | travel, fitness, fashion + student blog |
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