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Traveler Nuisances

Things the Traveler to China Should Watch Out For

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China is, for the most part, a pretty safe place in which to travel - you don't have to worry about accidentally venturing into the wrong part of town. That said, you need to have your wits about you and ensure that you travel safely and prudently. There are a few customs that foreign guests to China sometimes find unsavory. Being aware of these points will help you prepare for likely events without coloring your trip unsatisfactorily. Read on to know what hassles and nuisances travelers may experience in China.

1. Pickpockets/Petty Thievery

As mentioned above, it's very important to keep your wits about you in any crowd situation. Pickpocketing happens to many (I've caught no less than 3 different hands in my bags throughout my years here) and it's not localized to foreigners. Be smart:
  • Don't keep all your money in the same place.
  • Don't carry too much cash around with you.
  • Don't carry your passport with you. (Here's what to do in a passport emergency if you do lose it.)
  • Keep your bag zipped and hold on tight on a crowded subway or in other crowded places.
  • Don't carry your wallet in an open back pocket.
  • Don't carry valuables in a backpack.

2. Touts

Around large markets many touts hang around trying to get you to come and look at their wares. Sometimes it's just a friendly "Hello lady, watch? Pen?" A wave and friendly bu yao, "boo yow", which means I don't want/need it, is enough to get them to leave you alone.

But sometimes, especially if you look like you might be interested, they can pester you to come have a look at their stall. Start with being firm but friendly. If it continues, you can give a sterner "bu yao". If it gets really bad ni zuo kai, "nee zoh kye", meaning go away, may finally do the trick. If you're really upset, report it to the local authority, there are usually security or police in big markets who are meant to control this kind of behavior.

3. Queuing

Possibly the most annoying thing you'll experience in China is standing in line, or lack of one. Pushing, shoving, cutting in line without even a glance is common. Expect it, and deal with it. Here's how:
  • Breath deep.
  • Stand your ground.
  • Indicate you were there first if someone cuts in.
  • Cut back in front of the person who cut in front of you.
  • Get close and personal – don't wait back at what seems to you a normal distance. Get right in there and fight for your turn.
  • Don't take it personally.

4. Traveling with Cute Kids

They're all cute, especially here. Chinese people adore children. 99% of the time, this makes traveling with them a breeze. That 1% where it's not a breeze is the possibility of everyone you meet wanting to hold, tickle, give candy to, pet the pretty head of, bounce your baby or toddler. Sometimes this is delightful – who doesn't like someone else cooing over your beloved 12-month-old? But if you're in a hurry, or your child isn't receptive to strangers, it can be quite tiresome. The best way to handle it is to be polite and use some of these tricks:
  • Indicate your baby is sleeping and keep the stroller moving.
  • Smile, and shake your head and wave your hand no.
  • Intercept any candy and say thank you.
  • Keep on moving.

5. Spitting & Burping

Many Chinese spit and burp vivaciously throughout the day. In this culture, it's not gross; it's not rude. Due to SARS and the awareness of disease spread, there are public campaigns to stop spitting and it has worked, if slightly, in larger cities. But don't be surprised if you hear a spirited cough with a wet thwak at the end where it hits the sidewalk (just remember to take your shoes off before you go into your hotel room).

Burping is a sign of contentment. Your cabbie might belch and so might your waitress. Just pass it off and enjoy the difference in culture. Difference makes life interesting, doesn't it?

6. Begging

While China's economy steams ahead, many are getting left behind. Needless to say, there is still abject poverty in China and some of the afflicted take to big-city streets to try to scratch out a living begging. Big markets, upscale restaurants and bars & clubs are usually big targets as well as ATMs by large hotels.

Be careful. It's up to you whether to give or not. If you do give, especially to a woman with a child, keep in mind you might quickly be swamped by large numbers of other beggars. Make sure you keep your wallet safe. It's best to walk quickly away. It's difficult to witness poverty and the eyes of a begging child are hard to forget. Your money may be better spent given to a charity that supports local schools or women.

7. Crossing the Street

The pedestrian is the lowest man on the transportation totem pole in China. Be aware that despite that little green man beckoning you to walk across the street, you need to look both ways, look again and then keep looking as you cross. Cars will turn in front of you and buses will not slow down as they push through bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Locals tend to jaywalk and cut into moving traffic without so much as a glance to see who's barreling down their direction. Keep this in mind – you can't be too cautious when it comes to dealing face to face with traffic in China.

8. Pollution

You've read the papers and seen it on the news: China is one of the worst polluters on the planet. Gobbling coal and other resources to fuel its burgeoning economy, the air quality in many cities is frightful. Keep this in mind before you go but don't let it stop you going. Once you're outside major cities, you'll be amazed at how lovely the skies can be (just visit the Great Wall from Beijing on a bad day and you'll know what I mean). Bring along asthma or allergy medication and perhaps even a facemask to help keep your lungs clean.
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