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Visiting China can be an adjustment for visitors that are unfamiliar with the culture, and it is always good to be prepared before traveling. Visiting its capital, Beijing, is no exception.
Yes, Beijing has a lot of wonderful sights to see and foods to try, but it can be quite the culture shock. Here are some of my tips on anything from smog to carrying cash, toilet trouble, and table manners.
Unless you hold a passport from Singapore, Brunei, or Japan, you will need a visa if you wish to stay for longer than 72 hours in China. It can be time consuming and at times very difficult to get hold of a visa. So as soon as you know that you want to go to China, start applying for a visa.
If your country of residence is the same as your nationality, i.e., the country that issued your passport, then you should be able to get a 30-day tourist visa without too many delays. American travelers can find exact visa requirements on the U.S. Department of State website.
If, however, you are an expatriate, it is very difficult to get hold of a visa because you need to apply in the same country your passport is from. I had this problem in France, holding a German passport. The embassy expected me to go back to Germany to apply for the visa.
Once you have your visa, download a VPN (virtual private network) on your phone if you are planning to use the internet or go on social media. Make sure you do it in your country before you leave, because once you are in China, it’s too late. The VPN hides your device’s IP address, allowing you to search on your phone, use apps, or post a selfie on Facebook. That said, even if you manage to get onto Facebook, please be careful what you post. Any criticism of the politics of China, or anything even slightly negative, can get you into trouble.
Note that many VPNs are banned in China. Before going abroad, do your research on quality VPNs that are approved in China.
The Chinese currency is the renminbi, which means “people’s money,” but the renminbi is better known as the yuan. One yuan or renminbi is divided into 100 fen, or 10 jiao. Confused yet?
The most important thing to remember is to carry cash, and preferably small notes, as things within China are inexpensive, be they rickshaw rides, items from the corner shop or the food stalls — basically anything except for admittance fees because these are inflated for the tourists. Credit cards and things like Apple Pay are more and more accepted, especially in larger stores and restaurants and on the metro, but as soon as you head into more traditional areas, you are better off with cash. But you don’t have to tip in restaurants: Not only is it not expected, at times it is even frowned upon. However, in Western-style hotels and restaurants catering to tourists, you may tip, as the staff will have gotten used to it.
Public toilets provide quite the culture shock for first-time visitors to Beijing. In my experience, most were a simple hole in the ground, often without handles to steady yourself. Toilet paper, soap, and hand towels were also a rare commodity. I learned to carry hand sanitizer — a doddle in these days of the COVID pandemic — and tissues wherever I went. And after a couple of awkward moments, I was sure to lock the door when I went in.
Make sure you always carry ID because police may stop you at any time — in the street, at tourist sights, or in your hotel — and ask for identification. It is law in China for citizens and visitors alike to be able to produce ID when asked by police. Often you also get asked to show ID at the entry to sights when buying tickets.
I’m reluctant to carry my passport around when traveling in case I lose it. I carry a copy, either paper or a photo on my phone. I also tend to carry an old driver’s license, or other photo ID which clearly shows my picture and name, and leave my passport in the hotel safe.
Beijing is a huge city, full of cars and buses which do not necessarily meet Western emission standards. Throughout 2019, Beijing had just two months when the air quality was classified as “moderate.” The worst months for smog are the winter months, but that said, I first visited in winter and had the best weather I could have imagined, with clear, fresh air. To be safe, though, travel with a mask. But make sure the smog mask is rated N95 or higher, meaning it removes 95 percent of particular matter 0.3 microns in size or bigger.
Like in all large cities where tourists are aplenty, there are people who would like to scam them out of some money. The most common scam, with signs warning you at sites such as the Forbidden City, is the so-called Tea Scam. A young local will approach you, asking if you would mind practicing English with them. They will take you to a tea shop where, when it comes to paying the bill, the amount is in the hundreds of dollars, and if you complain, you find yourself surrounded by their not-quite-so-friendly friends.
The rickshaw scam runs along the same lines as most foreign non-metered taxi scams — you end up not paying the price you agreed to because suddenly your driver cannot understand a thing anymore. Instead, ask your tour guide or concierge in the hotel to help you or take a metered taxi.
In China, slurping and smacking your lips when eating is not only socially acceptable but in fact polite, showing the hostess or chef that the food is truly enjoyable. You might want to try and join in when eating noodles!
As for spitting in the street, while that sort of behavior is not necessarily deemed polite, it is widely accepted and pretty much the norm. So instead of getting upset or angry, just make sure to watch where you step. I swear my feet were aimed at deliberately by some guy spitting in Beijing, someone who clearly did not like foreign tourists.
Language is a huge barrier in China, with English not widely spoken. That said, with Beijing being a multinational and cosmopolitan city, you will find some English speakers in most larger restaurants and hotels, and tour guides are conversant in numerous languages. But step away from any Westernized or touristy area and you are on your own. It can even be difficult to get back to your hotel, so I have started to always carry the business card or a note from my accommodation with the name, address, and directions in the local language to show to taxi drivers when I get lost. At least you’ll get home.
As for eating out, some would argue it’s better not to know what you have in front of you anyway, but many restaurants in touristy areas have menus with images, which are often better than the translations — which, together with public signs dotted around the country, can provide some hilarious but not necessarily useful translations.
It took a while before I was brave enough to head down into the subway station to see if I could get around by public transport, and I wish I had tried it sooner. I had expected to get completely lost because I could not read the signs; instead I found that the subway had English translations, making things so much easier. Even the machines to get your 3-yuan, plastic entry card for a single inner-city trip, seemed much less scary than anticipated.
I knew that China would be full of history, and I knew the Great Wall of China was once rumored to be the only man-made object visible from space. Even if that is not actually true, the sheer magnitude of the historic sights here took me aback somewhat. Standing on the Great Wall, seeing only a tiny fraction of the 13,000-mile-long wall, built more than 2,000 years ago, nearly overwhelmed me.
Packing too much into a day can not only be physically but also mentally exhausting, so spread the important monuments out a little, if you have time, and add a bit of lighter fun in between. A market, a walk through the Hutongs, or a bit of shopping gives the brain a chance to digest each morsel, one at a time.
At first, I balked at the thought of eating a fried duck. But this is the specialty in Beijing, and when in Rome, as they say… and you know what? The crispy skin dipped in sugar (yes, really) is one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. As travelers, it is good at times to jump over your own shadow and try different things. You might just really love them.
A travel writer and guidebook author for the last 20 years, Ulrike’s work has been seen in National Geographic, BBC, The Independent, Australian Women’s Weekly, The Telegraph, The Australian, AFAR, Fodor’s, Brides, France Today, Four Seasons magazine, CNN Travel, numerous inflight magazines, and many others.
She has written three books for Moon Travel Guides: ‘Living Abroad in Australia’ (3rd edition), ‘Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef’, and the shorter version ‘Spotlight Sydney’ and are all available in print and as e-books.
Having lived in seven countries (Germany, UK, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Australia, currently France) to date and traveled to more than 90, she specializes in writing about travel, art and architecture, expat living, and life & style.
China says Biden comments likening leader Xi to a dictator ‘extremely absurd and irresponsible’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s remarks calling Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “dictator” and China a country with “real economic difficulties” drew fast condemnation from China on Wednesday, cracking open a new rift just after the two countries agreed to tentative steps to stabilize the relationship.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning condemned Biden’s unusually pointed comments as “extremely absurd and irresponsible.”
The clash of words comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a visit to Beijing on Monday that sought to break the ice in a relationship that has hit a historical low. While both sides saw those talks as productive, they did not result in any significant breakthroughs beyond an agreement to return to a broad agenda for cooperation and competition.
China’s quick response to Biden, a president known for seemingly off-script remarks that venture beyond his administration’s policies, raises questions whether his remarks would undo the limited progress that had been made in Blinken’s carefully engineered trip or whether the two sides would move on.
Biden’s characterization of China comes as the campaign for next year’s presidential election is already taking off, with Republicans accusing him of being weak on China.
Biden also was preparing to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington on Wednesday evening for a lavish state visit where a central theme will be a shared wariness of China.
Biden, at a fundraiser in California on Tuesday night, referred back to January and February’s two-week overflight of what the U.S. says was a Chinese spy balloon. The balloon’s surprise appearance over U.S. skies roiled relations and transfixed the American public.
Speaking to wealthy donors at the event for his 2024 reelection campaign, Biden depicted Xi as out-of-touch and embarrassed by the incident, which ended with the Air Force shooting down the balloon just off the East Coast.
“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy equipment is he didn’t know it was there,” Biden told the crowd.
“No, I’m serious,” he added. “That was the great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened.“
Biden also played down trade competition from China, which is the world’s second-biggest economy after the United States but struggling to emerge from COVID-era financial troubles.
“By the way, I promise you, don’t worry about China. Worry about China but don’t worry about China,” Biden said. “I really mean it. China has real economic difficulties.”
Biden’s remarks came hours after his secretary of state, in an interview with MSNBC, had called for the two countries to put the balloon incident behind them, saying it was a chapter that “should be closed.”
In Beijing on Wednesday, Mao told reporters that Biden’s remarks “go totally against facts and seriously violate diplomatic protocol, and severely infringe on China’s political dignity.”
“It is a blatant political provocation,” Mao said.
Mao also reiterated China’s version of the balloon episode, saying the balloon was for meteorological research and had been accidentally blown off course.
Administration officials signaled Wednesday that Biden had no intention of walking back his comments.
Biden and Blinken have made clear “we will continue to responsibly manage this relationship, maintain open lines of communication with the PRC,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, told reporters, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.
“But that, of course, does not mean we will not be blunt and forthright about our differences,” including differences on the global competition between democracies and autocracies, Patel said.
U.S.-China tensions have mounted for years as rivalry builds over trade and global influence. Repeated flare-ups have helped escalate the tensions, including over the balloon, U.S. tariffs, sanctions on China, and self-ruled Taiwan.
The U.S. is pressing China to embrace direct communications between Biden, Xi and other senior U.S. and Chinese military and civilian leaders, as a channel to defuse tensions and keep incidents from escalating into open hostilities.
Despite the administration’s diplomatic efforts to soothe relations, analysts point to the Republican political pressure, and note Biden regularly seems to go off-script to criticize Xi.
Bonnie Glaser, Asia director of the George Marshall Fund of the United States, pointed Wednesday to Biden’s state of the union address in February, soon after the balloon flight, as Republican lawmakers in the audience heckled him over China and other issues. Waving a finger in the air, Biden cried out, “Name me a world leader who’d change places with Xi Jinping! Name me one! Name me one!”
For Biden, “he’s under a lot of criticism from the right. He doesn’t want to be seen as soft on China. He views Xi Jinping as a dictator,” Glaser said.
“And he’s not very good … at differentiating what should be said in public and what should be said in private,” Glaser said. “And the relationship pays a price for it. There’s no doubt about it.”
Xi was likely upset by the claim that he hadn’t been fully informed about the balloon incident, said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies and a longtime observer of Chinese politics.
“My sense is that Xi may not want to overreact and put the relationship back on ice again,” Tsang said in an email.
The initial Republican response to Biden’s remarks was approving. “It’s an appropriate description of their system of government,” Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.
While Xi heads a country formally named the People’s Republic of China, he faces no limits on his terms as head of state, commander of the military and leader of the ruling Communist Party, which brooks no challenges to its authority.
In California, Biden had told donors that Xi “wants to have a relationship again.”
Blinken “went over there … did a good job, and it’s going to take time,” he said.
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.
Macron appeals to China’s Xi to ‘bring Russia to its senses’
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping called Thursday for peace talks over Ukraine after French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to him to “bring Russia to its senses,” but Xi gave no indication Beijing would use its leverage as Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic partner to press for a settlement.
Xi gave no sign China, which declared it had a “no limits friendship” with Moscow before last year’s invasion, had changed its stance since calling for peace talks in February.
“Peace talks should resume as soon as possible,” Xi said. He called on other governments to avoid doing anything that might “make the crisis deteriorate or even get out of control.”
Beijing, which sees Moscow as a partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs, has tried to appear neutral in the conflict but has given Putin diplomatic support and repeated Russian justifications for the February 2022 attack. Xi received an effusive welcome from Putin when he visited Moscow last month, giving the isolated Russian president a political boost.
The Chinese leader said “legitimate security concerns of all parties” should be considered, a reference to Moscow’s argument that it attacked Ukraine because of the eastward expansion of NATO, the U.S.-European military alliance.
During talks earlier, Macron appealed to Xi to “bring Russia to its senses and bring everyone back to the negotiating table.”
Macron pointed to Chinese support for the United Nations Charter, which calls for respect of a country’s territorial integrity. He said Putin’s announcement of plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus violated international agreements and commitments to Xi’s government.
“We need to find a lasting peace,” the French president said. “I believe that this is also an important issue for China.”
Macron was accompanied to Beijing by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a show of European unity.
Von der Leyen said she encouraged Xi to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Chinese leader “reiterated his willingness to speak when conditions and time are right.”
“I think this is a positive element,” von der Leyen said.
Von der Leyen warned China against sending military equipment to Russia, echoing a warning Wednesday by NATO’s 31 member governments of “severe consequences” for shipments of weapons or ammunition.
“Arming the aggressor is a clear violation of international law,” von der Leyen said. “This would indeed significantly harm the relationship between the European Union and China.”
China is the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas, which helps prop up the Kremlin’s revenue in the face of Western sanctions. That increases Chinese influence, but Xi appears reluctant to jeopardize that partnership by pressuring Putin.
“China has always adhered to an objective and fair position on the issue of the Ukraine crisis,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning. “We have been an advocate of a political solution to the crisis and a promoter of peace talks.”
Also Wednesday, the French and Chinese governments announced agreements including the purchase of 160 Airbus aircraft by a Chinese leasing company and for their companies to collaborate on nuclear, solar, wind power and biofuel development.
ITF resumes tennis in China with no word on Peng Shuai
TOKYO (AP) — The International Tennis Federation will play tournaments this year in China with no word of a resolution to the case of Chinese doubles player Peng Shuai.
Peng disappeared from public view shortly after accusing a former high-ranking Communist Party official — in a web posting in November of 2021 — of sexual assault.
The ITF, which conducts tournaments below the elite level in its World Tennis Tour, lists its first tournament in China on June 5-11 at Luzhou. The ITF’s last full season in China was 2019, prior to COVID-19.
“The ITF anticipates a resumption of tournament activity within China for each of the ITF Tours later this year,” the ITF said in a statement.
The WTA, which runs the sport’s top-tier women’s events, hasn’t announced if it will resume staging tournaments in China.
In late 2021, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon announced that the WTA would be suspending all of its tournaments — including the season-ending WTA Finals — that were held in China because of concerns over Peng, costing the tour millions.
The men’s ATP has scheduled several event for later this year in China. It canceled 2022 events because of COVID-19 restrictions in China.
Peng gave a controlled interview a year ago during the Winter Olympics in Beijing and had dinner at the event with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. She left many questions unanswered and has largely been out of public view since then.
Simon has repeatedly called for a “formal investigation” into the allegations made by Peng, and has asked to meet privately with Peng. It’s not clear those conditions have been met.
In a statement announcing the ITF men’s and women’s tournaments returning to China, ITF President David Haggerty said the sport’s world governing body had to invest in the professional events that worked as “the main artery for the top level of the game.”
“As the global guardians of the game, we are passionate about providing a pathway for up and coming talent in all countries, and providing more opportunities for players to play closer to home,” Haggerty said, adding that the ITF was pleased to be returning to countries such as China, Burundi, Cyprus, Trinidad & Tobago and Taiwan.
AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports