Beware of fake Chinese money!
Always be on the lookout for counterfeit money, especially 100 and 50 RMB notes.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics are sure to bring hordes of tourists to the Northern Capital. If you count yourself among them, prepare yourself for an amazing time! Beijing , and China, while generally quite safe and relatively crime free are not without hazards, and its best to prepare yourself in advance to maximize enjoyment and minimize nasty surprises. Before settling in Beijing, I had traveled the world quite a bit and learned through the school of hard knocks to be on the lookout for scams, so I have managed to avoid most of the scenarios listed below. However, I have heard countless stories from less wary (and perhaps less jaded) visitors who were completely taken in. So, it is my hope that my humble list will save a few people from embarrassment or worse! So, with no further ado, here is my official Top 10 List of Survival Tips for the Beijing Olympics and beyond!

1. Cars always have the right of way. While by no means the law, and certainly showing signs of recent improvement as more considerate drivers take to the roads, it is a fact that if you are behind the wheel in Beijing, you are seemingly entitled to act as though you own the road. While this may express itself through arrogant maneuvers such as blocking all traffic in every direction as you brazenly attempt a U-turn from the center lane at a traffic light to avoid waiting your turn in the left turn lane, it is vitally important for pedestrians to register this fact, as they are granted no rights to the road what-so-ever, beyond that of obstacle. One might assume, for example, that when the little green man lights up across the street that it is OK to walk across the street. What you should actually do is look toward the flow of cars turning around the corner that will not even consider stopping for you, if anything speeding up to try to be the last one to make it before traffic is inevitably stopped. Eventually critical mass will be reached and through pedestrian solidarity, you may claim the crosswalk.

2. Only take an official taxi from the airport. The line at the taxi stand may be miles long, but if anyone approaches you at the airport offering you a ride please resist the temptation to negotiate with them. You could lose your luggage, all of your money, your pride, and in the most extreme, though exceptionally rare cases, even your life. I’m sure that security will be beefed up around the time of the Olympics, but these people are remarkably tenacious, so I’m sure you will be approached. Resist at all costs!!

3. Beware of the calculator. If anyone ever gets a calculator out to show you a price (unless you are truly off the beaten track and they are doing it for expediency’s sake - not the case if they are otherwise speaking relatively fluent English) be prepared to offer them an initial price of about one tenth of what they show you. If you can get it down to a third or less of the original price, you are a good bargainer. One half is acceptable for a novice. Any more and you should be prepared for the eventuality that you will find the same thing for much less somewhere else. In my experience, those who eschew the calculator are usually more likely to offer realistic prices, and my negotiation will be less aggressive.  You can avoid the haggling altogether by sticking to department stores where prices are fixed.  The Silk Street Market and other tourist traps are the worst!

4. Beware of art students. If anyone comes up to you telling you they are art students and asking if you’d like to see a private art show, avoid them like the plague. Unless you enjoy paying over 10 times over any reasonable value for mediocre art. I have always been naturally suspicious of them, so I have never actually gone with them, but this story has been verified on many occasions.

5. Beware of lady bars. I am personally quite wary of anyone who approaches me on the street to solicit me for anything, especially on a bar street, but I have heard many a sad tale from those who have fallen prey to the “lady bar” scheme. Inevitably you are taken to an extremely over-priced bar that may or may not have any “ladies” and liberated from all of your cash.

6. Beware of offers for tea. As innocuous as this sounds, many people have been lured into having innocent tea with some charming young ladies, only to be charged hundreds of dollars for a single pot! Rule of thumb, unless you are used to being approached by charming young ladies and asked out on a regular basis in your home country, be very wary if it happens to you in Beijing.

7. Beware of counterfeit money. There is a very good reason you will witness people checking all 100, 50 and even 20 rmb notes you offer with suspicion, and it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the watermarked image of Mao from the start. Many of the fakes are shoddy and easy to spot, but if you end up with one, it is best to accept the lesson rather than attempting to foist it off on someone else, as they may take it personally. Do you really want to attract that kind of karma anyway?

8. Beware of spit. OK, this is not really that big a deal, and one’s length in China can often be measured by the degree of lack of reaction when hearing a loud hawking sound, but it can be very bothersome to some people. If you have kids, be warned that all of the tiny puddles on the ground are actually spit, so if that grosses you out, be prepared to spend most of your trip staring at the ground. It is not considered necessary by many spitters to find some location off to the side toward which to expectorate, nor is the loud noise they make in preparation for such a rite considered unduly bothersome. After all, they are simply ridding the body of impurities, the air of which in Beijing supplies in plenty. More thoughts on spitting here.

9. Be prepared for assaults on your sensibilities. There are some things which simply come as a shock to newcomers to Beijing, and an open mind is the best defense. Traffic bothers nearly everyone. Once you realize that everyone is following the same “rules” and that there is order in the chaos, you can (maybe) relax. Other things simply confound the observer, such as crotchless pants for toddlers. I have witnessed the boggled eyes of many a conservative visitor at the way in which children’s private parts are put on public display, and the subsequent blank expression that ensues when no suitable explanation arises. It is a fact that Chinese kids are toilet trained lightyears ahead of those in the US because they are taught to pee on command, facilitated by kaidankuzi, or crotchless pants, sparing the landfills inundation with disposable diapers. At least so far. It seems that disposable diapers are catching on with the burgeoning middle class. Also, remember that pushing and shoving and general rude behavior in cities is a human trait, not a Chinese one.

10. Get a subway pass. The best way around town in times of traffic is the increasingly convenient subway system. However, it can get very crowded at times, and the lines can get long. It is a good idea, therefore, to avoid single use tickets and get a pass that allows you to scan in and out of the subway multiple times. You can top up the card as you go along, and save time. You can even use the same card on city buses, which have the added bonus of charging you less if you use a card! Some buses that use distance-based fare systems require you to swipe again when getting off. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

My good friend Ernie has taken over as Managing Editor at China Expat and the blog posts have gone way up in quality! In his latest blog post, Ernie describes something quite familiar to me that I first experienced way back in my Japan days in the late 80s and early 90s til now, although I like to believe I have mostly recovered since then. I’m refering to Marco Polo Syndrome, or the affliction that allows one to temporarily (hopefully) behave as though you have single-handedly discovered China (or Japan.. or Thailand.. or whereever it is you hang your expat hat) and look with disdain upon your fellow foreigners, be they residents or tourists.

Quoting Ernie…

Early Symptoms of MPS

Early symptoms of MPS strike first-time visitors to China, and are usually only temporary for those of sound mind and character. Particularly at risk are Americans who refer to Asians as “Orientals”, or God forbid, “Yallers” [only in the South]. Symptoms may include but are not limited to:

1. Standing in the middle of bustling Chinese commercial centers and shaking one’s head in wonderment at the inevitable McDonald’s and KFCs.
2. Uncontrolled yelling and gesticulating on encountering stalls full of Chairman Mao alarm clocks and red-star army caps.
3. Communicative Aphasia, manifested by shouting English in the mistaken belief that increased volume can bridge the language gap.
4. Selective diminution of the ego, manifested by gladly undergoing various humiliations in order to hit it off with “the natives”.Snap a picture honey! Me & Mickey Rourke’s chubby bastard child are blending in!
5. Maniacal euphoria at riding a crowded Chinese subway/bus, followed by profound dismay on noticing a fellow foreigner who is completely unmoved by the environment.
6. An OCD fetish for buying and donning all manner of unsightly hiking clothes, bags, and boots, more suited to an exploration of the Yukon than the two kilometer stroll from one’s hotel to Wangfujing Street.

Chronic MPS

Sadly, the Institute of Recent Studies has found that one in three long-term visitors to China develop chronic MPS. Signs of chronic MPS include:

1. Depraved ogling of a fellow foreigner’s Chinese girlfriend/wife, while walking about with one’s own Chinese girlfriend/wife, followed by a pronounced slump of the shoulders if the other Cg/w is perceived to be ‘hotter’. A cocky strut denotes that the MPS sufferer has concluded his Cg/w is ‘hotter’.
2. A compulsion to speak sub-standard Chinese at street-hawker decibel levels, followed by rage and shame when the Chinese listener doesn’t understand, or even worse, when corrected by another foreigner.
3. Practiced cunning in surreptitiously determining other foreigners’ “time in”. A condescending smirk follows an evaluation of having served in China longer; a studied indifference follows an evaluation to the contrary.
4. An irresistible urge to one-up any and all anecdotes by other foreigners wishing to show that they, too, have been “in the bush”.
5. Selective public blindness to other non-Chinese, to the extent of not noticing one if they were the only two people in Tiananmen Square, and the other foreigner was copping a squat in full Pennywise clown gear. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

Ellie and Blysse got very attached to “Spotty”, a hermit crab they found on the beach. Ellie cried her eyes out when we finally let him/her go. This was taken during a relatively rain free moment. You can get a glimpse of Kata Beach and see that it is a pretty small and private beach, one of the reasons it is popular for families. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

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