Sunday, August 16, 2015

Things to know when you travel to China

China may look as foreign as it may get to a first time traveler. I had no different experience when I was treated with chopsticks, food which one may wonder how human intestines can absorb, language which looks like painting and sound like music varying from high to low pitch and probing eyes staring at you continuously as if you have landed from another planet.

I had been fortunate to travel across China from North to South for business and in the process meeting hundreds of local Chinese people. With risk of sounding a bit prejudiced, I’m sharing things you need to know while traveling to China.

1. How to find your way in China: When I travel my whole plan revolves around Google maps. Amputated of the greatest ever application developed by humankind, I was left with no option but to look for alternatives. Offline map application - help me find my way around Chinese cities. Always remember to take hotel card with Chinese address whenever you go out. Don’t think Chinese will understand names like - Sheraton, Crown Plaza or Radisson. Chinese have name for all English nouns – hotels, companies or countries! You need to know the Chinese names to reach your destination. The first thing to do after landing is to find a Chinese person in business / format suite (in hope the person understand English) and request her to help you translate the address in Chinese.
2. Alternative to Google – Go offline: China will remind you how dependent you are on Google – Google maps, Gmail, Youtube - because Google is banned in China. Of course, there are online alternatives- you may use search engines like Bing and Baidu but results will be in Chinese which may not be of much help. Did you forget you can’t use Google translator in China!
Go old way and ask for info to hotel staff, taxi driver, by-standers, sub-way staff, Police. You will get enough information to get your work done. Don’t worry about language as they all understand universal language – “the sign language”. Ask them and they will be more than happy to help you out.
3. Don’t mess with their tea: Chinese love their tea more than any other beverage and no matter what - don’t mess with their tea. Oh yes, they may get angry if you do that –what tempest in tea pot! – you may think. They are very particular about how their tea is served as if it is some spiritual tradition. The idea of mixing tea with milk and sugar to tea drives them crazy. The only thing common between Indian and Chinese tea is name – ‘Cha’ in Chinese and with a little sweet ‘i’ – ‘Chai’ in Hindi !
Chinese will serve you either hot herbal tea or hot water in meetings or hotels. Even if temperature outside is 40 degrees- be ready to be served hot tea or water! Chinese won’t ask you if you need coffee or cold water. I don’t think they even keep coffee machines or cold water dispenser in offices. Do try your luck though for cold water – ask for ‘Bing Shui’ (cold water).
4. Bring them a gift: It is too easy to flatter Chinese people– just take a gift for them. This may be a challenge for business travelers as their organizations may restrict giving gifts for risk of it being taken as bribe or quid pro quo. Well I don’t think a small innocuous token gift will qualify for a bribe. Just consider it as a business cost in China and take token gift for your Chinese clients.  

5. Find talking points: This is easy – talk about Bollywood. Chinese love Bollywood – ask them to sing a Hindi song and you may just get surprised! They are huge fan of ‘3 idiots’ – 3 funny friends as they would happily recall. 


  1. Chinese cha!!
    Good for health

    How good is the Chinese infrastructure?
    Do they cover their downtowns??