July 20th, 2008

birds nest

My Aunt Sally says ...

No, really. I have an Aunt Sally who travels all over the world. She sent me some advice on getting by and getting around in China.
Trains

The stations are packed and there are thousands of stairs filled with people rushing to get seats. Hopefully your guide will have reserved a bunk or a seat. You need to be steady on your feet so you don't get knocked over. Especially when the passengers are climbing in through the windows. You often need two tickets. One for the train and one for a seat or a bunk.

Hard sleepers. We like them better than soft sleepers. More fun, but you are out there with a car full of people. There is always a large thermos of hot water by your seat. They sell food from carts that ply the aisles. Lots of Top Ramen. If you pull the top bunk, carry a piece of plastic and some duct tape to cover the air vent so it doesn't blow on you all night. Some trains have a DJ. You can make requests. [Right on, man!]

Always carry Duct Tape. I also carry about 14 feet of braided nylon rope to make a clothes lines or to tie up the pack - especially when its on top of a bus!.

Clothes and backpacks
A backpack is good; but, in order to get the pack under a train seat, put your put your shirts, sweater, and rain jacket in a bag you can take out of your backpack to make it thin enough to fit under the seat. I always carry a pillow case and put the bag of shirts into the case to make a pillow. I also put our camera and ipod inside the case and sleep on that too. Also carry a light weight bike lock with at least a foot long covered chain. You'll need to lock your back pack to something, but especially if you get stuck putting it on a luggage rack.


Clothes washing
The hotel soap is strong enough for washing clothes. We found a good laundry here and there. However, we pack with the rule of three. One clean, one dirty and one on. We wash stuff out everynight. My backpack never weighs over 25 pounds and fits in the overhead of the plane. A good rule: If you can't lift the pack over your head, lighten it up. We can live for a month this way. By the way, REI and LL Bean carry fast dry shirts and underwear. We sleep in lightweight sweats and a tee shirt.

Money
Wear a money belt around your waist and under your clothes. Do not wear one of those passport cases around your neck. They are easily snipped and snatched Carry a color photo copy of the face page of your passport. Have it notarized. When asked for your passport by a non-official at a border, show the photocopy. If they ask for the passport, tell them it is at the hotel.

Check both sides of the bills. They are good at pasting on zeros.

When you exchange money, save the receipts. When you leave China and want to turn in Chinese money for dollars at the airport, you'll need receipts. Check to see if the govt. exchange is before or after security.

Taxis, transportation and getting home

Always carry a card from the hotel to show to taxi drivers. Always take a receipt from the taxi driver. It will have the drivers cell phone number in case you left something in the cab.

Hotels

Hotels count towels and water bottles and will chase you down to get payment. [Our professor says they'll chase us down if we leave our own stuff there, too.]

The beds are hard and the pillows are hard. Very sleepable though because you'll be tired from nights at the Karaoke Bar.

Stores

The govt. store is good. I love the flea markets, but they are in out of the way places. There will be a lot of junk for tourists. Most of the jade and pearls for tourists are fake. Bargain.

Bookstores have books in English. Almost all stores have you pick out what you want and they will give you a bill. Take the bill to the cashier . Pay. Go back and give the proof of payment at the product counter. Most likely, they will tie it with string. You will get a proper bag from the security guard at the door.

Food

Carry your own chopsticks. We eat anything cooked and we don't ask too many questions. If you eat street food, hope they put in on paper rather than the plastic dishes they wash at the curb in questionable water. [After eating Chilean street food, I think I'll pass.]

Postcards
They are few and far between. Mail them from a four star hotel. The Post Office doesn't seem to know how much postage for anywhere but China.

Internet Cafes

There are many and they are fun. The kids are all watching movies. They sell Top Ramon and you are allowed to eat at the computer. They want your passport to use the computer.

Doctors

Take along a Chinese person. You have to pay to get an appointment. You have no privacy because Doctors share rooms and everyone listens in when a doctor questions a westerner. The pharmacy will load you down with some interersting remedies.

A nice collection of advice. I'm not sure if we'll be roughing it that much, but I s'pose I'll go buy another $20 bike chain.